As far as not just comic book characters, but cinematic characters go, The Joker is immortal. The character has helped give numerous actors a solid legacy and is easily the most dynamic character to play. I’m sure in the future when another depiction of the clown prince of crime comes around, actors will be chomping at the bit for that slice of pie. This time, Joaquin Phoenix takes over the role which needed some recovering after the controversial Jared Leto portrayal. We were promised an unconventional Joker film that takes a dive into the psychology of The Joker, not only does the film achieve this with flying colours, it looks at society as a grim cog in the wheel.
I must start with Joaquin Phoenix playing Arthur Fleck, I must otherwise I’d be beating myself for not getting my views out sooner. Simply flawless. For what the film is looking to achieve, Joaquin is throwing everything at the role. It feels like the direction this Joker is going in has been in front of our noses the whole time, it takes Joaquin’s sinister, fluid movements to bring it to life. A big issue with a character like Arthur is how conflicting he can be to audiences. Should we sympathize with this character? No, I don’t think the film wants us to, what the film does want us to do is to understand him, understand his predicaments, understand wants makes him resort to crime.
Once your done peeling away layer after layer to this character, you can also appreciate how Joker addresses the issue of mental illness. We see early on that Arthur suffers from a condition that makes him laugh at unfortunate times like a tick. It’s remarkable to see the filmmakers of Joker use a characteristic of the character we’ve all just accepted as part of his insanity and give it a completely different view that honestly makes you feel stupid for not having that thought about the character.
This film may be its own separate thing from the DC Extended Universe; however it does not mean that it borrows comic book storylines directly. One storyline that will be instantly recognizable is The Killing Joke. Seeing Arthur’s descent into madness, it borrows the idea from The Killing Joke that all it takes to become as insane as The Joker is one bad day.
People have already made the comparison with two Scorsese films The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, if the casting of Robert De Niro as a comedic late-night host wasn’t enough of a clue, the narrative comparisons are obvious to anyone who’s seen both films. To some, this attempt to refer to other works is the film’s desperate attempt to attach its name to other, more successful films. It may seem like this at first glance, but because Joker is taking such a unique angle with its story and character, they are merely homages, despite the giveaways of it being otherwise.
You want to know how well this film does its own thing. How many times did you have to tell yourself you were in Gotham? Did the story ever feel like it could only happen in Gotham? I forgot it myself after some important “set the scene” details at the beginning, but not recognizing this only makes the commentary of Joker more relevant. The city though feels massive in scale thanks to riot scenes. The scale and intensity feel city-wide, even though the filmmakers probably could only work with a chunk of a city, which is a credit to them.
Let’s shift focus here to something that has sparked a lot of controversy and uncomfortableness for a lot of people. I didn’t want to talk about the violence initially, but I realized I would have to address it at some point. Yes, the scenes are brutal, but I find the argument of them inspiring real-world violence isn’t completely well rounded. I think the people who don’t approve of the violence also don’t want to admit that they were on the side of Arthur at some point in the film. During the scene where Arthur gets beaten by three men on the subway, it’s near unavoidable to side with Arthur but it’s in the siding with Arthur that makes some people turn away from Joker because it feels wrong. They’re right however, it does feel wrong but at the same time, you liked it, making the film more complex.
I would have liked to see more interactions with Arthur’s love interest in the film Sophie (Zazie Beats). I felt the interactions between the two were limited and would only make sense if you knew the full extent of Arthur’s mentality and conditions.
When you want to see a film that achieves what it set out to do, Joker has ticked all boxes. It’s a guarantee that all eyes are going to be fixated on Phoenix’s performance. I thought after Ledger’s mythical portrayal and Leto’s disastrous one, the character of The Joker was done, clearly, I was wrong. The commentary on society’s outlook towards mental illness is explored with incredible brutality, hitting hard where it needs to. I believe that this film is destined to be looked at the same way The Dark Knight is looked at today and personally, I can’t wait for the discussions.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen Joker? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
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