“Joker” takes place in the fictional city known as Gotham during 1981. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a party clown who’s just trying to do his best to be a great comedian and a good citizen, all while residing in the slums of Gotham City. As if trying to care for his weak mother (Frances Conroy) and cope with his mental condition wasn’t enough, it feels like the whole city is going crazy as Arthur is constantly bombarded by moment after moment of misfortune. As events plunge him into a downward spiral, Arthur begins to lose himself to an alternative persona, one that’s going to crawl its way out from the depths of Arthur’s madness and into the spotlight. The film also stars Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz.
For those who may not be aware, this film is technically a comic-book movie. Yes, despite its dark and grim tale, this is still based on characters from the DC comic books, except this one is unique. There’s only one costumed character, and that’s the Joker. There is no Batman in this film whatsoever. While it does have Batman as a child, along with his parents—the Waynes–the Joker remains the main focus from beginning to end.
This isn’t the first time the Clown Prince of Crime has been on the big screen and every film has had a different interpretation of the character. Tim Burton’s “Batman” depicted the Joker as an insane crime-boss. “The Dark Knight” took the character in a grittier direction by turning the Joker into a mentally disturbed anarchist. While “Suicide Squad” made the wise decision to do absolutely nothing creative and made the character into a complete tool, “Joker” on the other hand, does something neither film tried to do, and that’s put the villain into the spotlight as the main character and allow the audience to enter his demented mind.
“Joker” is a disturbing tragedy. It’s a story that borrows elements from films like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “The King of Comedy.” Which is ironic considering Robert De Niro starred in all three films, plus “Joker.” It might’ve been intentional, it might’ve been a coincidence, regardless, it all culminates into a film that genuinely feels like descending into madness in a way I haven’t seen before. The beginning has this bleak, dark, feeling of having no control as Arthur wonders through a dark and depressing Gotham. But through time, the darkness shatters as Arthur slowly gives in to the madness, and soon everything changes. Suddenly the mood and atmosphere feel more vibrant with brighter colors and more light, as if madness in its purest form was the only freedom. It sounds warped, I admit that, but don’t take it as the movie trying to paint mental instability in a positive light or anything. It’s just how the story paints it from the perspective of our protagonist, and like it or not, our protagonist is a flawed but tragic figure.
In fiction, it’s easy to turn a human into a monster, but it’s a challenge to turn a monster into a human. For the first time, we have a film that tries to give an origin about how the Joker came to be the villain we all know, and it’s truly tragic. For the Joker to exist, Arthur Fleck has to die, and when the movie starts, you’re on Arthur’s side. He’s painted as someone who’s not out for money, fame, but just for a chance to be loved by people as he brings joy to their lives; something many of us crave. Yet, society only continues to kick Arthur down until finally, he drowns in a sea of his own madness. However, someone else rises from the depths. Someone that’s going to teach the people of Gotham the harsh truth. That society is one big joke, and the Joker is the punchline.
Both Arthur Fleck and the Joker are brought to life by the acting talents of the great Joaquin Phoenix, a man who deserves more credit for giving two duel performances. Remember, Arthur Fleck and the Joker are two different personas, and Joaquin Phoenix not only had to act as both characters, but he also had to slowly shift from the meek and innocent Arthur Fleck into the mad and vindictive Joker for his role in the film. Not just on a personality level either, Phoenix took his performance to the next level after dropping over fifty pounds for the role. By this point, I think the man deserves an Oscar nomination just for the effort alone.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that left me emotionally drained. There were so many moments where I had to stop and take a deep breath just to get through certain parts as the film kept me on the edge of my seat; due in part to the acting talent of Joaquin Phoenix and the original soundtrack. The music was composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who recently won the Primetime Emmy Award for her composing work in the HBO mini-series “Chernobyl.” I never thought I would hear a musical score that could challenge Hans Zimmer’s work in “The Dark Knight,” but “Joker” has stood the test. The music feels like a melody from the Joker’s warped mind—it’s haunting yet beautiful at the same time.
The last reason that “Joker” is so unique and worthwhile is the various interpretations people are getting out of it. Two people could watch this film and leave with several different interpretations. That’s because the story follows the rule of show don’t tell. “Joker” is a movie that gives the audience just enough info so we understand what’s happening, but leaves enough room for the audience to fill in the blanks on their own. Some could see this film as a tragedy, about how an innocent man is broken by society. Or people could see it as a horror story, about how a damaged man gives in to his madness and finds freedom in the chaos he creates. The best part about it is no one is wrong, and that’s only one of numerous interpretations people are having. No matter the interpretation, however, it all amounts to a troubled man dumped in a society that ruins him. I believe American novelist James Baldwin said it best, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
“Joker” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images. This is hands down one of the best films I’ve seen all year! There’s nothing left to address except that it’s a must-see, an Oscar contender, and one of the best films out there! Which is why I’m honored to give “Joker” its’ justly deserved score of 9.5 out of 10!
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.