Joker - Review
Joker – October 4, 2019
Joker haunts you long after you see the movie. The performances and tone of the film create a realistic and unsettling narrative that is sure to spark debates and controversy. Is it warranted? Absolutely not, but it’s fun that people get so worried about a movie. Why so serious?
First things first, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is unquestionably Oscar-worthy. From the first frame of the movie to the last, you believe that you’re watching a real person and not an actor. Phoenix’s ability to transform himself into Arthur Fleck deserves all the praise and attention. It’s difficult to compare this interpretation of The Joker to Heath Ledger’s or anyone else’s. Everyone brings their own version to the role with its own positive and negative characteristics.
This Joker is particularly scary because you can see the comparisons to real people with mental problems. The history of Heath Ledger’s Joker was unknown, so it was difficult to understand what made him that way. That was definitely scary in its own right, but when you see the full transformation of the character, you can ground him in a relatable reality.
It’s that realism that sparked concerns about the impact of this movie. If people relate to a serial killer will that inspire them to become one too? I would hope not, but so far, no word on any new serial killers. The other worry about this film was the violence. Which is easily the most overblown topic of the entire movie. This whole story is structured the exact same way as Taxi Driver and the violence in that movie is actually more graphic than this. So, if that was acceptable 43 years ago, then any worry about this movie is a joke (Pun intended. Aren’t I so funny?).
Joker definitely stands alone in the Batman Universe of movies. I can’t imagine this version of The Joker facing off against the Dark Knight. Especially because they portray the Wayne family as arrogant jerks. So consequently, I would be rooting for The Joker. However, it’s the presence of the Wayne family that makes this a “Batman movie.” Without them, this is just a movie about a sad guy dressing up as a clown. Nevertheless, the story is paced perfectly and the tension builds masterfully as the final scenes strangle your nerves.
Overall, Joker feels timely, nostalgic and rare. Although the storytelling is familiar, the movie is really about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. As a character-driven narrative, your character better be fantastic and Phoenix does not disappoint. This entire production creates a playground for Phoenix to explore and that is where the real magic of this movie lies. With all that said, there are some things that didn’t work for me. I will get into those details in the spoiler section below.
There are a couple things I didn’t like about this version of The Joker. The character of Arthur Fleck is a little mentally slow. As you saw in the trailers, there is just something off about him. His uncontrollable laughing is “a condition” and he doesn’t seem very bright. Just the kind of person who doesn’t understand social cues and critical thinking. His journey is more about being fed-up than becoming a mastermind.
One of the great characteristics of The Joker is that he is clever with his intentions or plans. This Joker never did anything that I thought was particularly smart. And Joaquin Phoenix’s character didn’t seem to have the ability to come up with any ingenious schemes. I know this is just the origin story and he may become smarter later, but since this is a one-off movie, it’s disappointing not to see something like that in this film.
The other story element that didn’t work for me was revealing that Arthur imagined being in a relationship with his apartment neighbor. They are suddenly hanging out a lot and then we discover that he was just fantasizing their relationship. This creates an American Psycho conundrum where once you introduce that some things are fake then anything can be fake too. It makes you wonder what else was just inside Arthur’s head.
That ambiguity takes away from any driving force that is supposed to show the audience the transformation of the character. Its only purpose is to show that Arthur has mental problems, but there are other ways to do that without making the audience question everything they just watched.
Finally, this isn’t a complaint, but I really loved how the story progressed. With the subway shooting leading to Thomas Wayne calling poor people “clowns,” which led to the protests and riots in Gotham, which ultimately created the rise of The Joker as a symbol was all brilliant.
Speaking of brilliant, I also really loved the symbolism of the stairs in the movie. When Arthur Fleck was down on his luck, he was always slowly and defeatedly trudging up the stairs in the dark. Then once he finally becomes The Joker, he dances down those same stairs in the daylight. It shows him conquering himself to become who he was meant to be. I thought that was an inventive way to visually showcase his transformation.
I forgot to mention a couple things that also confused me. There is an entire storyline about whether or not Joker and Bruce Wayne are step-brothers. First you think Thomas Wayne covered up the pregnancy then it seems as though Joker’s mom was actually crazy and made the whole thing up. But it’s really unclear who was really telling the truth. This is just another example of being confused and questioning everything you just watched.
Lastly, at the beginning of the movie, the therapist asks Arthur something along the lines of “Do you remember why you were committed to Arkham?” Then they quickly show a flashback of him standing in a cell. But they never reveal why. I want to know why! That seems really interesting! If they explained why and I missed it, please email me.