We are on the cusp of beginning a new year and a new decade, and, with this in mind, a friend and I were recently talking about movies that define the last five decades. He’s about 20 years older than me, so it was interesting to see how our views differed.
1970s – He said Star Wars because of what it portended for the future of blockbuster filmmaking. I said The Exorcist because it’s a crisis-of-faith movie that offers a director-driven approach to filmmaking in a uniquely ‘70s way.
1980s – He said Back to the Future because of its fond look back at the ‘50s and sly commentary on the state of the culture in the ‘80s. I said E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial because I can’t imagine a more ‘80s movie. It’s got a suburban setting, kids on bikes going on adventures, scary government agents hot on their trail, and many other things that continue to be emulated to this day.
1990s – He said Jurassic Park because of its timely theme of technology vs. nature and its impressive use of CGI. I said The Matrix because not only does it have groundbreaking special effects, but it is basically an allegory for rebelling against the system, much like how Generations X and Y decided to do things differently than their parents.
2000s – He said The Lord of the Rings Trilogy because it reintroduced classic fantasy, which continued through the rest of the decade with the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia films. I said The Dark Knight because it deals with terrorism, domestic surveillance, and government corruption, which were big news all through that decade.
2010s – He said The Avengers because it was so revolutionary and successful. Everyone has tried to copy Marvel’s template of bringing a bunch of different characters into a shared universe, but just about every attempt has fallen flat. No one could do it as well as Marvel. He picked The Avengers rather than its sequels because it’s the one that proved such a crazy concept could work. The later entries cashed in on the goodwill of the first and brought their own unique ideas to the table.
I agreed with him at the time, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come around to the idea that the defining movie of the past decade is 2019’s Joker. It’s a special kind of movie that left me speechless after I watched it. I kept trying to write an article about it, but the only thing I could think to say was that it made me feel weird. It touched a nerve with many people, which is why it became such a big success. I think it’s because it addresses numerous issues that are uncomfortable to bring up, but which are important to people: mental illness, child abuse, single motherhood, bullying, lack of empathy for certain groups, rich vs. poor, and mockery of people on social media (even though the movie is set long before the creation of social media, it uses a Tonight Show-like TV host as a proxy for it). Plus, something about it made me feel dirty for having watched it. I mean, if you have the stomach for it, check out the climactic scene of the movie, which is equal parts gut-wrenching and terrifying. Joker takes its time to coil itself around me, making me feel sorry for the titular character before suddenly unleashing disturbing twists and horrific violence to pull the rug out from under me and make me question how I feel about every character in the film.
The way everything and everyone falls apart in this movie, perhaps it’s more appropriate to say Joker is the movie of the decayed, not just the decade. I don’t know for sure, but something about this unsettling film feels like an appropriate summation of the last 10 years. What do you think? What would you say are the defining movies of the last few decades?
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.