One Bad Day Can Send A Man into Madness
Reviews are out for the new Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, but does it live up to the hype? The movie was surrounded by controversy from the day it was announced until it was released. Was all the fuss justified? We kept this review as spoiler-free as possible, so here’s what we thought about Todd Phillips’ Joker. Proceed with caution.
Joker is a fresh take on the Clown Prince of Crime, an origin we haven’t exactly seen before. It pulls a few plot elements from The Killing Joke, but the bulk of it is as original as it gets. It’s important to note that this film stands alone, as in, it’s not part of the horrendous DCEU in anyway.
Arthur Fleck is a man struggling to make ends meet. He’s mentally ill, takes a slew of daily medications, cares for his sick mother and works small gigs as a clown-for-hire. On top of that, he suffers from a debilitating condition that causes bouts of uncontrollable laughter.
These laughing fits happen when he’s uncomfortable or in a situation that increases anxiety. Fleck is slowly coming to the realization society doesn’t care about people like him — the marginalized. After an unfortunate series of events in his personal life begin chipping away at his already-fractured sanity, Arthur undergoes on a shocking transformation that will culminate into the birth of Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker.
The film’s tone is dark, grimy and creates a cloud of depression over the viewer. Gotham City is rotten to the core with crime ruling the streets and things don’t look like they’re going to change anytime soon.
Joker takes place in what looks like the late 1970s, giving it a gritty, rat-infested New York City feel. The citizens are unhappy and their complaints fall on deaf ears.
Gotham’s rich and powerful don’t seem to care about its economic inequality, quality of life or public infrastructure. If the generally poor don’t get much attention, Arthur Fleck is practically invisible. He’s mentally ill, struggling to find work and relies on public health services to keep his issues under control.
Joker takes us on a tense and gut-wrenching journey as we follows Fleck into the pits of insanity. Already down on his luck, we witness Arthur take one blow after another until the film climaxes into one of the most spectacular endings I’ve ever seen. When the smoke clears, Joker will be a name Gotham will never forget.
Joaquin Phoenix is award-worthy in his depiction of the deranged villain-to-be. His portrayal of mental illness, from the pain behind his debilitating laughter to the way he becomes more unhinged as his life spirals out of his control, shows Phoenix at his best.
Aside from the acting, you’ll immediately notice the beautiful cinematography. Each shot is carefully framed and edited with a skill rarely seen these days. Gotham’s gritty tints of browns and blacks are contrasted whenever Arthur Fleck is in character as a clown — from his vibrant clothing to his creepy makeup. Each scene is backed by a brilliant soundtrack that’s award-worthy in its own right.
All the good stuff aside, Joker isn’t without faults. It stumbles when it comes to unnecessary backstory elements. If Todd Phillips wanted to make a Joker origin story that stands apart from anything written before, he should’ve kept all the way clear.
The decision to include Bruce Wayne at all pulls the viewer out of the story. It’s a hiccup every origin story deals with. The idea that Bruce Wayne would cross paths with Joker before he becomes Batman is an extremely unlikely and ridiculous plot point.
I couldn’t help but see it as a blatant way to get people excited in the otherwise slow-moving story.
Having Thomas Wayne embody the rich and powerful should have been the extent of which the Waynes were included. In fact, Thomas could have just been a sly reference in passing, rather than a physical character who interacts directly with Arthur Fleck.
I found myself fairly bothered by this because the story would have remained the same if Thomas, Martha and even Bruce, were absent from the film all together.
When it came to the “dark” subject matter, I feel Joker wasn’t dark enough. As I mentioned before, the film was one of the most talked about subjects on the news leading up to its release. However, the hype surrounding Joker was predictably overdone. In fact, the speculation surrounding the plot was darker than what we ended up getting.
In fact, there was nothing overly-controversial in the movie to begin with. You don’t walk away from Joker feeling sorry for the character. You feel sorry about the situation he was born into and angry at the society he’s in for allowing things to get that bad. He’s not a hero.
What Joker does is criminal and is in no way justified by the film. There are two main characters in Joker — Arthur Fleck and Gotham City. Both of them are villains.
Joker is definitely symbolic, albeit exaggerated, of society today. The rich hold power, preference and authority while the poor have little say and the marginalized are left in the dust.
During the climax of the film, Arthur, now Joker, sets off a chain of events sending Gotham into chaos. We all know what’s coming thanks to blatant foreshadowing, but feels almost anti-climactic at its peak.
It felt like Joker’s actions were held back, possibly by a nervous Todd Phillips wondering what he would allowed to get away with without being cancelled. I honestly expected more chaos to ensue.
Finally, although Joker will keep your eyes pinned to the screen throughout its 2-hour-runtime, it doesn’t seem to have a clear message. There is no overarching lesson to be learned.
What we get is a walkthrough of how a neglectful society transformed a vulnerable and innocent man into a villain with no remorse. It’s essentially a straight-forward point-A to point-B narrative. If there really was a lesson to be learned, it’s that society is broken and unfair, but that’s hardly profound.
That said, the film had arguably the most satisfying and spectacular ending in recent memory. Watching Fleck’s life spiral out of control until he finally embraces the chaos is something that has to be seen on the big screen. The confidence he gains as soon as he stops holding back feels like a win … solely for Arthur Fleck.
If you’re wondering whether or not Joker is worth seeing in theaters, the answers is a solid YES. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely beautiful to look at and a fascinating take on the iconic villain. Joaquin Phoenix is amazing as Arthur Fleck and the story is gut-wrenching. Watching Fleck take one punch after the next, you’ll feel the tension rising, waiting for him to snap at any moment. To say Joker is a masterpiece is a bit overkill, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s great, just not perfect. If nothing else, the last ten minutes of the film is worth the long buildup followed by an ending as memorable and satisfying as they get.