Most films based on comic book characters allow this idea of escapism for their audience. They’re a chance for you to switch off from the troubles of everyday life transporting yourself to a brighter place. A place where good triumphs over evil. However, this film turns this concept on its head.
Joker is directed by Todd Phillips who is known primarily for his work on comedy favorites such as ‘The Hangover trilogy’. In a break away from comedy, Phillips takes the reins in this movie, whereby actor Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of Arthur Fleck. Fleck is a character who has faced many struggles within his life. Living in a rough apartment with his elderly mother and working as a clown for a living, Arthur is one of life’s biggest losers. Despite his best efforts, he faces setback after setback. The film follow’s Fleck’s slow descent into madness, taking on many of the characteristics associated with D.C villain ‘The Joker’.
It was always going to be a tough task for Joaquin Phoenix to take on the role of ‘The Joker’, an iconic comic book villain of all time. As a role that has been portrayed countless times over the years by some of Hollywood’s top stars, including Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill. My personal favorite, however, was Heath Ledger within ‘The Dark Knight,’ an iconic representation of the role and is the yardstick by which any future actor will be measured. Phoenix certainly had big boots to fill, but he put any reservations I had going into the film to bed very early on. He is quite simply outstanding!
Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix collecting Golden Lion award for ‘Best Film’ at Venice Film Festival
What makes this film so interesting is that unlike most movies it doesn’t have a central plot. Arthur hasn’t got some mission that he needs to undertake. Instead, it just follows his everyday life allowing the audience to see how he became the monster that everyone is familiar with. You genuinely feel sorry for him at first, seeing the character struggle with both small things, such as being teased at work by his colleagues, to traumatizing events such as being brutally beaten up on multiple occasions. The moment you see him totally lose control is incredibly powerful and shocked me to the core when I watched it in the cinema.
What this film does so brilliantly is shine a light on society’s injustices. Arthur is different from most other people, having severe mental health problems and a rare condition which makes him laugh uncontrollably at any given time. Because of these differences he is ostracised, shunned, and cut out from mainstream society. This narrative seems all too familiar to what many of those that fall outside the cultural norm experience on a day to day basis. The harsh reality is that society in general likes to think that it’s inclusive and accepts people of all walks of life, but so often this doesn’t seem to be the case, and Joker highlights that. Arthur is a product of the toxic environment which he experiences on a day to day basis. Lessons can certainly be learnt from this movie, and the one overarching message that everyone should take away from the film is to be kind to those that are different.
In terms of supporting characters in the film, none of them particularly stand out but they all serve a purpose. Joker is first and foremost a story about Arthur, and it doesn’t try to develop many of the secondary characters greatly. However, having said that Bret Cullen does a good job in his role as Thomas Wayne, the millionaire businessman and father of Bruce Wayne. Joker attempts to portray Thomas in a slightly different light and is a far cry from the saint that he’s depicted as in other films. There is also a lingering question throughout the movie relating to Arthur and Bruce’s relationship which keeps the audience guessing. This is well handled as it moves the film along by further fuelling Arthur’s dark thoughts which eventually lead to his descent into madness.
One thing that should be noted about this movie is that it’s not for the faint hearted. The violence is particularly graphic, so those who are a bit squeamish when it comes to gore should maybe think twice before watching the film. It’s also very dark in tone, and in places is particularly disturbing in terms of the themes it explores and the gritty realism that Todd Philips manages to portray.
While it’s not exactly a fun watch, it’s an incredibly captivating and clever movie that is likely to leave a lasting impression on you. Many have touted this film as a masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why. Joker is a movie that in a golden age of comic book films is able to stand out and bring something innovative and fresh to the genre.