When news broke out that Warner Bros was green lighting a Joker origin film, directed by Hangover director Todd Philips, many were right to be skeptical. I mean, this is the dude who also directed Road Trip, which happens to be from the era of “American Pie” raunchy frat films and thus wasn’t taken seriously as a director who can capture the dark, mature tones of a Joker film.
With the additional casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Joker, people began to believe in this film but remain slightly skeptical. And yet, somehow he’s managed to pull it off in this gritty and nihilistic take on one of the many plausible origins for the Joker.
Taking place in the early 1980s, Gotham City is plagued by a garbage strike, causing the city to become a literal garbage heap. Beneath the disgusting streets lies those who scrape on by, the people who are often regarded also as trash, making the streets even more dirty. Among those who live in the dumps of society, is Arthur Fleck. He’s a troubled man, suffering from a disorder that causes him to break out in laughter, often times causing him immense pain and discomfort.
Arthur takes care of his mother, who has always told him that he was meant to put happiness in the world. Arthur tries this by working as a clown spinning signs for businesses and also attempting his hand at stand up comedy. However, as many who live in the squalor of a major metropolitan city, Arthur faces abuse and injustice at the hands of other citizens at his level. He’s beaten by a group of thugs, ignored by people around him, and bullied by Wall Street-esque businessmen. Arthur can only take so much before he snaps…
Part Taxi Driver, Part King of Comedy, this film embodies those two and throw in the essence of Joker and creates a solid movie meant to show you how someone like Joker is made, but also so you don’t actually like him. At first you can feel for him, but the further he falls into darkness it’s safe to say he’s not some anti-hero. He’s a full on Villain, and villains often are all about themselves. Arthur becomes more narcissistic, violent, delusional and villainous as the movie progresses, which I can say is a slow burn at first.
The events of the film transpire to represent our society, a tense and violent one that Arthur even states “is getting crazier.” Arthur’s actions create a movement that fits into his character from the comics. Joker loves being the center of attention and would often do things just to be seen and talked about. In the film, he’s doing it perfectly. Feeling like he’s finally being noticed brings a sensation of self-worth and joy he hadn’t felt in his entire life. This is a accurate depiction of Jokers personality and anyone who was skeptical of this Joker becoming the actual Joker can breathe with ease, because he can be. Like Joker once famously stated “I prefer my past to be multiple choice.”
The other characters in the film either help Arthur go down this path or represent an obstacle in his way. By help, it doesn’t mean actually push him willingly down a path of insanity, but by doing things that have an effect on Arthur that ultimately causes him to lash out. A few of those are: Robert De Niro, who plays talk show host Murray Franklin, an idol of Arthur’s, Zazie Beets who plays Sophie, a neighbor from down the hall, Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck, Arthur’s mother, and finally Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne. These people all interact and influence, or supposedly influence Arthur into becoming Joker. Arthur’s environment has a direct influence on him and yet, you can see that Arthur was always capable of doing these things.
The performances of everyone here is spectacular, most importantly Joaquin. He embodies this role and truly delivers one of his greatest performances, perhaps his single greatest role. The way he moves as Arthur is so rigid and old looking, but when he’s Joker, he’s fluid and looks younger and more alive. I honestly see a Best Actor nomination coming for Joaquin and he totally deserves it. The other actors deliver as expected and although they don’t have any grand scenes or dialogue, they serve their purpose of guiding Arthur along on his twisted journey.
Overall this film achieves wonders for both Warner Bros and the comic book genre altogether. Not since the Dark Knight have we had a film twist and recreate elements from the comics into something new and original. Without a doubt, this film is heading to the Oscars especially since it won the coveted Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Fest which usually leads to a Best Picture nomination. I highly recommend this film for those who want to see a descent into madness.
A marvel of Cinematic achievement about one of comic books oldest and most evil supervillains and an Oscar worthy film that’s sure to be talked about for years to come.