Grim and ruthless, Joker is a phenomenal film of both beautiful cinema and a performance by Joaquin Phoenix that you’ll never forget.
Say what you want about Joker, but anyone who didn’t already hate it before its release or anyone who isn’t blindly following the masses, better head to the theater and watch this movie right away. The controversy surrounding Joker claims that it glorifies violence and makes a violent character come off as sympathetic. However, that is not in any way true.
None of the crimes committed by Arthur Fleck are framed as justifiable acts worthy of praise. The movie makes it clear that he isn’t stable nor is he in the right. In the moments where we might feel sorry for Arthur as a victim of both an abusive life and of the system, the film breaks that sympathy with a harsh reminder of who he is underneath.
If anything, Joker should be viewed as a warning tale. Everything that happens in the film is plausible, but preventable. If you’re discomforted by this movie, that’s okay, it’s supposed to be that way. It’s showing us how a madman who kills for seemingly no reason might be made.
There are so many books and films that try to decode serial killers or mass murderers and understand what made them snapped. Joker is no different.
The makings of the Clown Prince of Crime
Set in a world before Batman, Joker opens with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) hoping to finally be seen in a world that has condemned him to be nothing but a “clown.” His big dream is to appear on his favorite talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), but Arthur is, unfortunately, a terrible comedian. An awkward personality amplified by a plain lack of humor frequently makes him the butt of his own jokes.
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Aside from living in Gotham, the unhappiest place on Earth, Arthur struggles with severe mental health issues that he’s unable to get proper help for due to funding cuts in social services. And this is just the thick icing on top his three-tiered cake of problems.
Living in poverty, he and his ill mother (Frances Conroy) depend solely on his income from a clown agency to survive, but it isn’t enough.
Arthur is desperate for someone to notice him, especially his attractive neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz). During a conversation with his therapist, he admits that he spent his whole life wondering if he was actually ever alive. Desperation is who Fleck is; desperation and madness. Dancing alone to the music only in his mind in a filthy bathroom under flicking lights, his arms flowing in the air as if he’s on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House….there is no other way to describe him.
Despite all these setbacks, Arthur tries his very best to smile and make people laugh, however, it’s never clear if this desire is genuine or stemmed from the philosophy behind Arthur’s attitude. “Smile and put on a happy face,” force your way through life with a smile plastered on.
Everything changes one night on the subway when three young associates of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) assault him for no reason. Arthur kills them all in self-defense and flees the scene, but not before witnesses see him dressed in his clown makeup. The crime has the people of Gotham screaming in support for the man they believe to be a vigilante disguised as a clown.
Those who feel just as victimized by the law and the upper class as Arthur, start rallying together in clown masks. Nihilists who view Fleck as a symbol of freedom.
Meanwhile, as this happens, Arthur’s anger grows beyond control. The anger grows as do the crowds that cheer him on. The line between reason and mindless violence grows thinner and thinner until it’s no longer there and we can finally see him smile for real.
Phoenix is the driving force of the film, it wouldn’t be standing if not for him. His performance is indescribable, the look in his eyes as he cries and laughs holds a deep agony impossible to look away from. An Oscar isn’t good enough for him. They need to create a new award altogether and give it to him. Love it or hate it, see it just for Phoenix. He gave me goosebumps at one point.
It’s possible this could get a sequel (though I doubt it) because there are a few moments in the movie that reveals Joker to be a secret Batman origin story. Just wait until the end, you’ll see what I mean. It puts a nice twist on Bruce Wayne’s beginning that I thought did a nice job connecting the two arch-nemesis before Wayne put on a black cape.
Joker is now playing in theaters everywhere.