An exceptional performance by Joaquin Phoenix. A MUST SEE movie of the year!
So, I waited a while before I went to the movies to watch Joker with a few friends. Partly to wait for the controversy to die down and partly to see how the public reacted to it. Just a heads up, this review will contain SPOILERS so if you want to see this film for yourself, then read Caribnerd’s spoiler-free review to see his thoughts. Interestingly enough, it was the fullest I’d ever seen the theater, even weeks after the opening. They placed a sign on the door that said the movie was rated “Hard R”… The movie had a huge pile of controversy to swim through since the media has been desperately trying to tie the “Joker” character to violent online anti-social subcultures like the incels. They were desperately picking at the trailer to find scenes that supported their point. But I’m glad to report that the movie doesn’t have a thing to do with anarchists or any other boogie men that the media have been trying to scare you with since Heath Ledger’s Joker in the “Dark Knight”. It’s impossible to talk about this character without bringing up all the other actors who portrayed him. I grew up with Mark Hamill from Batman the Animated Series, some grew up with Jack Nicholson and others with Jared Leto from Suicide Squad (unfortunately).
The film takes place in Gotham city during 1981. The place is filthy and it’s a clear comparison to New York City’s 1981 garbage crisis. The protagonists’ name is Arthur Fleck and he makes a small living as a rent-a-clown. He lives in a run down apartment with his sick mother, he has no friends but he has a strange condition where he randomly erupts into fits of unstoppable and creepy laughter. His only joy is watching his idol, comedian Murray Franklin on TV and dreaming of being a comedian just like him. He gets assaulted and robbed at one of his gigs and his boss accuses him of stealing the merchandise he lost and takes the expense out of his paycheck. His coworker then hands him a gun for protection which becomes really important later. When Arthur gets home he talks with his ailing mother about her constant attempts to contact her former employer Thomas Wayne for financial aid. This is when his life takes a turn for the worst, he can’t get his medication or therapy anymore, he loses his job and he’s forced to shoot some drunk, rich Wayne enterprises employees in self-defense. As the police start to look to him as the main suspect, there seems to be a rise in anti-rich clown-masked protesters who rally against Thomas Wayne and his condescending speeches about the poor in his mayor campaign speeches. It also seems like Arthur is hallucinating on a regular basis as a result of not getting his medication. He eventually bombs a stand-up performance and the video ends up on the Murray Franklin show. Franklin invites Arthur on the show to make fun of him and here is where Arthur embraces the confident and crazy Joker persona. He gives an angry speech on the show about how society has neglected him before shooting Murray in the head. A series of wild events happen that end with the obligatory scene of Thomas Wayne and his wife getting killed in front of their son, the future batman. And Arthur in Arkham Asylum telling his story to a psychiatrist. It’s up for interpretation how much of the story was real.
This story is all about how society helps create villains and is an attempt to encourage us to treat others a little better. I love the fact that it acts as a standalone piece and not just another DC movie. In reality this film could’ve been about anyone. It’s interesting that in media the social commentary is usually reserved for stories about villains like Arthur and Killmonger from Black Panther. This film says a lot about apathy in society but sadly it doesn’t say much new. It’s almost identical in theme to old Robert DeNiro movies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I also think there is a bit too much time padding with scenes of the Joker dancing around. That being said I think this is one of Joaquin Phoenix’s best performances. Another thing of note is how it gives a different take on Bruce Wayne’s farther. He is usually portrayed as a saintly man of the people but here he is just plain unlikeable. I think this is one of the must-see movies of the year even if you’re not a fan of Batman or comics at all.