From the director of The Hangover, comes a film that could hardly be more opposite. Todd Phillips, who both co-wrote and directed Joker has instead drawn heavily on Scorsese films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (even borrowing Robert Deniro) to bring audiences a portrait of the Clown Prince of Crime that is unlike any that have come before it.
Previously depicted by Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto and the late Heath Ledger, but never before given such a spotlight, the character of Joker is played to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix.
Make no mistake though, while you’ve likely seen at least one iteration of Joker before, you’ve never seen him like this.
The film, Joker, is not your typical comic book movie. There is no hero that will swoop in to save the day, in fact, there is almost no lightness at all to balance the overwhelming darkness of this bleak-as-can-be origin story.
Joker centres on its titular character and the troubling events of his life that cause him to spiral down a path of madness that ultimately leads him to choose a life of crime.
Before he adopted the ‘Joker’ moniker, he was simply Arthur Fleck. A desperately scrawny, mentally ill man who worked as a clown and somehow provided for both himself and his unwell mother. In his spare time, he’s an aspiring stand-up comic.
He’s experienced traumas that cause him to laugh uncontrollably (and most unsettlingly) when he’s uncomfortable, which in almost every case, only makes the scene more uncomfortable.
Arthur lives in garbage-infested Gotham City where tensions are at a boiling point between the elite and the working class. So when a clown takes matters into his own hands, shooting three drunk frat brats who are harassing a young woman on the subway, the masses rally behind him.
Everyone is clueless to the fact that the crime wasn’t at all politically motivated, and was instead the last resort of a mentally disturbed man, a man who’d simply become the focus of their abuse when his mental condition, the aforementioned sporadic laughter, made him their target.
Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of astonishing as the damaged, fragile Joker who becomes more repugnant as the film goes on. He slides subtly from Arthur, into Joker, until the transformation is complete. Oscar whispers are inevitable as he dominates this film that frankly relies on his performance to be successful.
The setting and cinematography are not to be forgotten though. They play a significant role in making this film wreak of grimy, disturbing heaviness even when the plot seems to meander. In this sense the film is hard to watch, but it’s a necessary evil.
There are several supporting characters in the film- a single mother he stalks and befriends (Zazie Beetz), a talk show host he worships (Deniro), and of course, the Wayne family makes an appearance, but this is very much a character study primarily concerned with Joker alone.
The film presents Joker’s story to you in a way that allows you to understand how a normal man could wind up committing such horrendous acts. Obviously, it’s not aiming to incite violence or stigmatize mental illness. Problem is, it’s a fine line.
Sophisticated audiences will pick up on the deliberate ironies-like the ignorant actions of the masses who cling to the clown as their hero despite him not representing them at all.
And the film’s consistently grim tone, even when Joker feels victorious, should be an obvious cue to those same astute audiences that nothing is being condoned or celebrated here.
That being said, Joker’s strong correlation between mental illness and violent insanity is one that is likely to cause upset in spite of its plausibility. If the film falls into the hands of people with their own mental disturbances, it’s intended message could float right over their heads to worrying, even potentially devastating effect.
Bone-chilling, controversial or just outright gross. Whatever you may think of Joker, it’s a film that will have everybody talking and that in itself will make for a box office success.
SEE IT if…
You can handle dark films
You’re sick of traditional comic book movies
SKIP IT if…
You need a pick-me-up
You have a complicated mental history
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
Not your thing?