What happens when you get an unstable, mentally incapable individual who is treated as nothing but a nobody and trapped in a dystopian state city? The answer is given in Todd Phillips’ ingenious new movie, Joker.
Phillip’s presents to us the super villain as young man, troubled and just hanging on by a thread.
The brilliant Joaquin Phoenix portrays the character in a way that makes him seem creepy but yet also sympathetic at the same time.
Arthur Fleck (the Joker’s birth name) is an awkward figure, the kind of awkward that makes you want to stay away with a barge pole but also feel genuinely concerned for him.
He lives with his fragile mum (played by Frances Conroy) in a slumpy apartment and just about hangs on to existence as a party clown.
Gotham city seems to have run off the rails and lost its way. Rats are on the streets, rubbish hasn’t been collected for days and there are too many stores proclaiming that they are closing down or some that are already lost and empty.
Although not stated in the film, it is estimated to be the 1970s and most importantly, crime is at an all time high and for some it is a way of life. The gulf between the rich, shown by Thomas Wayne, and the rest of society is enormous.
Arthur is unable to stand up for himself, he is on multiple medications and when he is beaten up by young thugs on the street, he is unable to stop them. He is powerless.
Unfortunately for him, he suffers from a mysterious medical condition which causes him to erupt into hysterics of laughter at all the wrong moments.
He has to carry a little business type card that explains why he is laughing to anyone who happens to experience an episode of laughter. This doesn’t mean anyone immediately understands or feels sympathetic for him though.
As a party clown, he isn’t very amusing either. The tone of the film is dark and more gothic than that of any of the more modern day Batman films. Although, Arthur is seemingly portrayed as vulnerable, the more he is bullied, the more grievances he builds up inside himself.
However, while watching this, it gave the feeling of the movie dragging on a bit. I know that the main purpose of the movie is to inessence give the Joker a worth -while backstory but it got to the point where I was just thinking, ‘can you become the Joker now?’
Although, the transformation into the malevolent figure with the disturbing red grin we all know, was worth waiting for. Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is more broodier and heavier that perhaps any of the jokers that are depicted in the previous Batman movies and Suicide Squad. He doesn’t have the bouncy, mad happiness like in the cartoons or any quick fire energy that Heath Ledger gives.
He moves slowly, maybe almost elegantly in a deranged way. However, when his malevolent is released, he is an unstoppable lord of chaos. This clearly isn’t a super hero movie so action scenes are in short supply.
One of my favourites is a scene involving the joker and hundreds of protestors dressed as clowns and two helpless police officers caught in the thong. It is amazingly staged by Phillips and takes place on the Gotham Subway which isn’t easy space to film in, a tube train with hundreds of bulky men acting ready for violent protest.
At times throughout this movie, viewers might be able to identify with Arthur in some way, not the kind of ‘I’m insane and I’m going to kill everyone’ type of way. But, in the simplest things like when no one laughs at his jokes or it’s like he is invisible on the streets on the way home from work and everyone bumps into him. It is a natural human instinct for someone of this situation to succeed and this can be felt with Arthur.
And therefore, there can be a sense of pride in way when he gets rid of the stumbling in his words and stands up for himself. At times, the storytelling can become a little contorted, as the film makers strive for a nuanced- based character, that someone is used to seeing as an overly happy baddie, especially if they grew up on the DC cartoons and colourful 20th century Batman and Robin movies.
It also hard to get the right mix of reality and an inverted, over dramatic movie. In this day and age it is hard to get something that the ‘precious snowflakes’ of this generation won’t sprinkle their icicles on. And I think that Joker has managed to do this.
This movie is powerful, original and something definitely worth spending the few extra pounds to see it in the cinemas for a great immersive experience.
This review was written by Charlotte OSullivan