“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.”
Joker, an origin story about Batman’s notorious arch-nemesis, tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a man who is down on his luck and seems to suffer from a brain injury that causes compulsive laughter, and therefore, doesn’t allow him to fully function as a member of society. But with one tragic event after another, Arthur sinks into the darkest depths, causing him to feel a sense of catharsis in harming others. Eventually, bringing about the villain that we know so well. Joker is hands down the darkest we’ve ever seen this character, making this a brilliant story to satisfy even the biggest comic book fan.
Not only does Joker commit in a re-telling of an origin story that we’ve seen so many times, but it goes deep into the disturbing qualities that make Joker who he is. The film never panders to its audience, nor does it leave the cliché “easter eggs” for the continued saga of Joker and the Dark Knight. Joker gets straight to the point. From the moment the movie starts, you see Arthur in several of his most vulnerable states. Joaquin Phoenix, who has long needed an award for his performances, doesn’t shy away from diving deep into Arthur’s psyche. The scenes with Phoenix’s constant laughter or mental breakdowns, causes you to flinch at how unsettling this performance is. Now, there are a few funny scenes within the film. But director Todd Philips does so well at painting a unique picture of the Joker, so that when scenes of humor make their way on screen, it causes you to question if it’s okay to laugh at what has just happened. Thus, making you look inside yourself and experiencing those moments where your laughter may not be the appropriate emotion for such a film.
Coming out of seeing the Joker, you will most likely feel a sense of conflict. People will compare this to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which coincidentally also stars Robert De Niro. But between De Niro’s character, Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver, and Phoenix’s, Arthur, there are more relatable qualities that Bickle has, versus Arthur. The mental instability that we see Arthur go through is, no doubt, hard to watch. It’s hard to fully understand, or even condone, Arthur’s behavior. The more you peel back the layers of Arthur, you will feel sorry for him. But again, is sympathy the right emotion to have for a man that turns out to be so evil?
Between you and I, I can see why some audience members may despise Joker. It’s a hard film to watch, and more importantly, a film that has more than its share of extreme violence. But when you get right down to it, Joker is a brilliant and fresh take on the villain, and is definitely the darkest film that we’ve seen related to the DC Universe. In a world that so often comes down on the “little guy,” I believe that we all have a little Joker in us somewhere.
Directed by: Todd Philips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, and Robert De Niro