Joker is the tale of the titular comic book villain of the same name, and is directed by Todd Philips, director of The Hangover trilogy, and stars Joaquin Phoenix of Her fame. It is not your standard comic book movie as it takes on a more gritty, urban tone similar to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
The story follows Arthur Fleck, a middle-aged, mentally ill man who has a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably even when he doesn’t feel like laughing, which leads to awkward or uncomfortable situations. It’s an uncomfortable affliction for Arthur, and you see on his face just how torturous it can be for him. Arthur works as a clown who aspires to be a comedian, but he has the unfortunate problem that he isn’t funny. His jokes are dark and don’t have punchlines. He lives in a crummy little apartment with his mother, a bed-ridden old woman who spends most of the day watching television and asking Arthur if he checked the mail. Arthur often daydreams of being on a late-night show his mother frequently watches.
Every day on his way home from work he has to walk up this massive flight of stairs and the imagery invokes the feeling that Arthur’s life is just an uphill battle, and you feel for him. It is from there that Arthur’s life takes a downhill spiral, that sees Gotham City consumed by riots, and Arthur’s already fragile psyche is broken beyond repair, giving birth to his new identity known as Joker.
To be honest, this film is horribly depressing and will beat you down for the entirety of its two hour run time as you watch a man with an already fragile psyche be beaten down further by a society that has stopped caring for the common folk and the people at the bottom. He does horrible things as a response to his surroundings. It initially starts off as an accident, but his responses slowly become more purposeful and more despicable as he tries to lash out at society. You feel horrible for Arthur and what he goes through. While I absolutely do not condone his actions in the film, I do understand what got him to that point. I even found myself verbally whispering to myself “Oh no!” and covering my mouth in shock at some of the things that happen in the film.
With that being said, Joker is, in my opinion, one of the best movies to have come out all year, and a serious contender for the Oscars this year, especially with the incredible performance of the title character. Phoenix puts on one of the best performances of his career and undergoes body transformation on par with Christian Bale in The Machinist. At one point you see Phoenix from the back with his shirt off and he looks almost deformed. It invokes the image of a gibbon, with his arms seeming too big for his skinny body.
People will try to rank this interpretation of the Joker with Heath Ledger’s legendary performance in The Dark Knight, which I don’t think is fair. They are equally incredible performances. From my point of view, Ledger’s performance is more true to how the comic book villain would operate in the real world, whereas Phoenix’s performance is more true to how the villain would come to be in real life.
That isn’t to say that this film is perfect. It tries hard to not be a comic-book type film like Avengers or Aquaman, but in doing so, it loses a bit of its direction. It doesn’t really say anything or comment about society that hasn’t already been said or done before. It’s like a merry-go-round; it has its ups and downs, but at the end of the ride, it doesn’t go anywhere.
Overall I give this film an 8.5/10. The story is unique, the acting is incredibly solid, and the cinematography is well done, but the movie suffers from not going anywhere with its story.
As a side note, don’t go into this film in a good mood because you will walk out without it.