Todd Phillips’s “Joker” was one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Since its big screen debut on October 4th, it has made over $500 million in box office sales, making it already one of the highest grossing films of 2019. However critics have had mixed opinions on this newly popular comic book film of the iconic villain.
The movie centers around Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a man with dreams of being a standup comedian in the hopes of spreading laughter and joy. However issues with his past, mental illness and the corruption of Gotham City causes his descent into madness as his persona, the Joker. The film largely ties in Thomas Wayne, father of Bruce Wayne who famously portrayed Batman. This therefore sets up a precursor to the Batman plotlines, introducing a young Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth, as well as a glimpse into the famous Arkham Asylum.
The violence and perverseness of the film may come as a shock to some viewers, especially ones who are used to the archetypal plot lines of comic book movies. However to be fair, the film’s image made it clear that this will not be your regular comic book movie, given it has an R rating for not only goriness, but also inappropriate language and behavior. So it can be for certain that “Joker” has made sure not to leave or hide anything. There is no sugarcoating of characters nor suppressing of violent brutality and language. It is an incredibly raw and intense origin story in the perspective of the villain. The dialogue and performance is quite psychologically stimulating in a way that can make you feel uncomfortable yet intrigued. In some cases, the film even mixes in some absurd humor that causes a bit of cringe and awkwardness to the viewers. The concept of laughter becomes its own character. We associate it with comedy, but the Joker is able to turn laughter into something rather dark and distressing, leading you to question if this villain is pure madness or simply misunderstood.
Other major stars played supporting roles as well. Robert De Niro plays Murray Franklin, a famed talk-show host, Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and love interest and Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck, mother of the Joker. Their characters play an important role to Arthur as he develops some sort of emotional attachment to them.
There have been many different actors that have starred in various incarnations of Joker across the decades, including Jack Nicholson in “Batman,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and Jared Leto in “Suicide Squad.” All have been compared and debated as to who played him the best. Now that this movie is released, Joaquin Phoenix has been added to the list. And as far as ranks, Phoenix can be placed quite high. He definitely executes the character well, masterfully demonstrating the progression of Joker’s insanity and the eventual rise to criminality. Phoenix really embodies the unhinged and deranged mentality of the Joker, but also portrays him in a way that makes you sympathize the villain.
All in all, “Joker” is a tragically beautiful narrative. Violent and disturbing yet alluring and deliberating all at once. It is undoubtedly an interesting and strange way to structure a comic book film, but maybe that is the only way we can really understand the mind of one of the most notorious villains in history.