“Joker” is not the standard superhero movie we have grown accustomed to.
This film is a work of art. Joaquin Phoenix’s visceral, gritty performance of the Joker rivals that of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” Director Todd Philips’ mystifying skills shine with the use of electrifying music and visuals. The story highlights a different angle for the villain, inspiring a unique combination of sympathy, confusion and disgust. Full of horrifying revelations, “Joker” is a devastating window into a fractured mind, full of political undertones and injustice. This gorgeous work of cinema is slow burn, building into disturbed fruition as the audience comes to understand the demented mind of Joker in his beginnings.
“Joker” focuses on the birth of the Joker as we know him. Arthur Fleck, Joker’s true identity, is a struggling clown for hire who lives with his mother. He struggles with mental health issues in the underbelly of Gotham City, where garbage litters the streets and super-rats scamper through the neighborhoods. Arthur Fleck suffers at the hands of an incompetent government which suspends the social services programs that provide his seven different medications. Even within the eccentric clown community of societal rejects, Arthur doesn’t fit in. In the opening moments of the film, Arthur sits, dejected, in front of a mirror in a freshly made clown face, his fingers in his mouth, forcing a painful smile onto his face as a singular blue tear escapes his eye. After getting mugged and beaten by a group of kids, a fellow clown gives him a gun for protection, a gesture that would eventually become fatal to many.
“Joker” is full of wonderful symbolism. On the way to Arthur’s apartment, there is a giant flight of at least 100 stairs. The entire movie, anytime Arthur goes back to his home, he must climb these stairs. It is a daunting task that is highlighted by low-angled camera shots, making these stairs seem even larger. The last time he leaves the apartment, now as the Joker, he dances his way down the stairs feeling truly free. These stairs symbolize Arthur’s struggle with mental health — he tries to “climb” his way to a better place and feels miserable while doing so. But in his unique mindset, once he literally descends into madness, he feels truly happy for the first time.
Joaquin Phoenix shines as the Joker. He artfully portrays the inner turmoil of Arthur in his movement and expression, rarely needing to say anything at all. After Arthur kills three Wall Street jerks who beat him up on the subway, he sprints away from the scene and finds a public bathroom to hide in. He stands in this bathroom as the camera pans down his contorted, frighteningly thin frame to his feet, which are positioned at awkward, painful angles. Suddenly, Arthur breaks into a demented, gaunt, and slow dances as a peaceful grin spreads across his face. He concludes this dance by looking in the mirror, arms spread wide, mirroring Arthur’s signature move that becomes a motif for his disturbed idea of success throughout the film. His guilt for the murders lingers less than minutes after they were committed. If anything, without saying a word, Joaquin Phoenix conveys that for the first time in Arthur’s life, he feels good.
“Joker” is an instant classic, despite of how far it strays from the canon of the comics. The film stands alone. The pure, unadulterated insanity Phoenix presents is truly chilling. This film will leave you unsettled and uncomfortable in your seat. The best indicator of a good film, and most art in general, is fairly simple; did it make you feel something during the experience? “Joker” is the most emotion I’ve felt while watching a film in a long time.