Review: Joker

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Review: Joker

Director Todd Phillips and actor Joaquin Phoenix expertly craft a unique and twisted rendition of pop cultures most iconic antagonist. 

Headlined by an intense and Oscar worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix “Joker” is less of a comic book movie and more of a psychological thriller and a homage to similar movies from the 70’s like “Taxi Driver” and “A Clockwork Orange”. The movie would work just as well if it shed the DC comics background and just dove into a brand new universe, but it is the fresh and unique angle that was added to a very well-known character that makes “Joker” so good. The skillful, Scorsesean style and the mind bending finally that once again shifts the theme of the Joker character, makes “Joker” a movie that demands to be rewatched and philosophized about for years to come. 

“Joker” tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man who lives in poverty with his elderly mother and works as a clown for hire. Fleck lives in a Gotham city that is clearly a reflection of a 70s New York City. This Gotham suffers from a growing tendency to crime and violence and immense wealth disparity that is highlighted by Thomas Wayne. As the world around him slips closer to the edge, Arthur discovers more about his life as his twisted mind unravels in violent sprees. Due to a number of exterior factors, Arthur eventually embraces the Joker persona and acts as the linchpin that hurls Gotham off the deep end. Of course, it isn’t that simple, and I don’t want to spoil anything. 

Before moving on to anything else, it is imperative to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the crown prince of crime. Phoenix’s Joker is like nothing the character has ever had before. Different from Nicholson’s goofy rendition and Ledger’s gritty realist, this Joker is a new form of insane. By not including a hero to focus on, the film gets to put the character under a magnifying glass. The most noticeable difference is that this Joker narrates the film, so the audience gets a new look at what’s going on in his head, allowing us to discover that the Joker is an untrustworthy narrator. On top of that, Phoenix builds new mannerisms and a new laugh that makes this Joker one of the best we’ve seen.

The main difference between the themes of these Joker films is in the Joker’s motivation. While Heath Ledger’s Joker sought to be the chaos to Batman’s order, there is no Batman to compare with. Phoenix’s Joker is just taking the madness that he sees in himself and in the city and trying expose it. He wishes to find a world for himself and his mentally ill mind to reside in happily, but upon realizing that this world doesn’t exist, he reverts to trying to create a world as mad as he is. It creates a Joker that is truly insane, holding on to the thin threads that kept him tethered to sanity only for those threads to snap and drop him into a world of darkness.

Above all, this movie is a masterclass in character development. The comic book Joker once infamously said that he preferred that his origin story be multiple choice and this movie wisely grasps the ambiguity of its title character. As Arthur descends further into madness the style and detail shifts with him becoming more nightmarish as we near the climax. The violence becomes more frequent and much bloodier and Arthur who is malnourished and dying looks more alive and well when he is Joker than he ever is as Arthur. All building to a finale that is so pact full of twists and so wide open to interpretation I can’t even begin to get into it’s brilliance without spoiling anything.

Joker is unlike any comic book movie we’ve ever seen, and it isn’t just a great comic book movie it is a great movie. Driven by a riveting performance by Joaquin Phoenix that is possibly better than any Joker before him, the movie fully embraces the ambiguity and insanity of its main character and source material and creates a dark, twisted and ultimately surreal story that leaves its audiences deeply disturbed and moved in all the right ways.

Final Score for: “Joker”

4.5 out of 5 stars 

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