Joker movie review

Joaquin Phoenix ain’t no joke

Ryan Joseph
Social Media Manager

Since the announcement of a solo film for the clown prince of crime with The Hangover Trilogy’s Todd Phillips at the helm, the media and the public alike have been buzzing about how Warner Bros. and DC would approach a character who is so grim and unpredictable. The Joker’s most famous storylines involve things like crowbars and home invasions, so it is hard to see a villain with such horrific grandeur on the big screen in the same year as Avengers: Endgame.

Phillips promised to bring a rendition of not only the character, but of the genre that had never been seen before. Brought to life by the celebrated Joaquin Phoenix, this Joker is a down-to-earth and accurately dark depiction. Phoenix gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Arthur Fleck, a loner and mentally-ill outcast who lives with his mother. He is neglected and taken advantage of for a large part of the film and is partly a commentary of society’s disregard for mental illness. This abuse slowly brews as he fails as a comic, and in every aspect of his personal life. The character himself is someone who is of the belief that everyone has the potential to be like him with “one bad day” and this Joker embodies that. He is burdened with beat-downs on all fronts and only finds the belonging he so desperately searches for once he begins to embrace the darkness and evil within him. He grows untamed and brutal as time passes and personifies the struggling lower class of Gotham.

He lives in a Gotham which is highly reminiscent of New York City, with a large segregation between the upper and lower class. Thomas Wayne, the figurehead for the lavish privilege that the upper class sits so comfortably in, becomes vilified as tensions come to a head, breaking into protests and riots. Much of this conflict (directly or indirectly) revolves around Arthur and his slow transformation into the Joker. Similarly to V in V for Vendetta, he becomes somewhat of a symbolic leader of the people. In Arthur’s progression into the infamous villain, there is no snap where he suddenly becomes the Joker. It is a growing beast that is nurtured and manifests in the finale where his brewing insanity and conflicts in the city intersect in the chilling climax.

If I’m being honest, this film checked all of my boxes. As someone who pays attention to details in cinematography, score, and symbolism, Joker delivered on all fronts. The score fits perfectly with the tone of the film and not only develops with its protagonist but accentuates the highlights in his story. The cinematography, along with the color palette and use of lighting are incredible. You needn’t look far to catch a shot or sequence that is visibly thoughtful and meaningful.

Joker has been compared and said to be inspired by the likes of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, being loosely based on Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke storyline. The parallels are visible but Joker does an incredible job of being boldly different in tone, writing, and theme than any other movie in the genre. With the box-office success and social controversy that developed within the time of its release, the question stands of whether studios will be looking to invest in darker takes on the massive genre.

Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 07 on December 4th, 2019