Joker has turned out to be one of the most divisive films this year. Half of the masses are calling this movie a disgusting love letter to the tragedy that has fallen on this nation of mass shootings and other horrendous crimes committed by very mentally ill people. The other half thinks this is a film about mental illness in society and how we let these people down, creating the very monsters we fear. Where do I stand on this? Well, keep reading and you’ll find out.
Joker doesn’t waste any time to let us know exactly who Arthur Fleck is. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a loner, a “freak” to his co-workers and someone who lets others walk all over him. We see Arthur get jumped and beaten by a group of children, cementing further that this man is weak and not a threat to anyone…yet. I want to preface this review by saying that Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his life. Regardless of your thoughts on the film itself, there is no denying this powerhouse performance that is sure to sweep the awards season coming up. He steals every scene he’s in (Which is every single one and I’ll get more into that later). Even though, Arthur Fleck goes on to commit some very brutal crimes, I couldn’t help but empathize with his character the entire film. I know I’ve lost some of you right there with that statement, but hear me out. I don’t condone violence in any way or am trying to find an excuse for people who commit crimes. I am only human and I can’t help but feel for this character.
The entire film we find out that Arthur has been lied to by loved ones, horribly abused at a young age, mocked and tormented by his peers and others and left to deal with his own mental health alone without any support. As much as we don’t want to face it, these are the people that are capable of anything. You put someone alone in a dark room, beat them, ignore them and make them believe they are weak. You are inevitable creating a monster and this is where I think Joker succeeds the most.
After Arthur Flecks brutal beating, a co-worker gives him a gun to protect himself. This is where we start to see Arthur become something else. The gun gives him a sense of power he’s never felt before. His only sense of power has been in the form of fantasy. Thinking he’s loved by the nighttime host Franklin Murray (Robert Deniro). This scene stood out the most to me because it truly shows how deep down Arthur just longs for someone to love him, someone to validate that he’s a person worthy of love and understanding, only to be snapped back into the cold reality of his living situation.
As I mentioned earlier, every single scene has the Joker in it. This is not an exaggeration, every scene has him in it. This is a great filmmaking tactic I was impressed with. This never lets him out of your mind, you are constantly stuck with his spiraling madness and how he views the world. It is relentless and unsettling being with him every step of the way into his descent of crime.
Once Arthur gets a taste of his power with his newly found gun, we see this character starts to become more human than he’s ever been. This human may be a sociopath bent on causing chaos and having revenge on those who’ve hurt him; still, this is the most human we’ve seen him since the beginning of the film, where he was on multiple medications and felt like a dead man walking.
We also learn that Arthur Fleck wants to be a stand-up comedian. This was the only part of the film that felt a bit forced to me and maybe a bit too hard to really make him a “Joker”. Yet, on the flip side, I understand the reasoning. Stand-up comedy is either the most validating experience you can have (People laughing and cheering you on), or it is a very embarrassing and shameful experience. These are two emotions Arthur is constantly stuck in. A sense of wanting to feel admired or to feeling ashamed.
The movie contains some very disturbing and violent scenes. I’m no stranger to violence, but the way Joker does it creates some very distressing moments. This was clearly done on purpose. Todd Phillips wanted you to feel the anger and pain behind Arthurs kills, he wanted you to witness how personal those kills were. The movie never shows Arthur killing random civilians for pleasure, he is clearly killing those he has deemed wronged him. I found this to be an interesting take on a character who in the comics for the most part was just a maniac who killed anyone for any reason.
Joker shines in cinematography and the soundtrack. Todd Phillips is no stranger to beautiful cinematography, even slapstick movies like “The Hangover” showed it’s beauty in cinematography. The soundtrack was definitely a surprise for me, I wasn’t expecting such an intense and visceral soundtrack. The soundtrack grows with the character, becoming more harsh and violent.
Closing Statements: I know my review is a bit biased, but I couldn’t help but connect with Joker on such a deep level. I was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder two years ago, a very serious mental illness and I can only sit here writing this review because I have incredible support from a therapist, loved ones and proper medication to help me. I have had constant fear for myself if those things we’re to go away, I’m not sure what I would do or who I would become. I have experienced my fairshare of childhood trauma and I felt myself understanding Arthur as he kept learning of more pain and more trauma to deal with and then feeling overwhelmed and isolated, it’s enough to drive anyone mad. Well, that and stand-up comedy by itself. Joker is a painful but yet enlightening experience to those who suffer from mental illness or dealing with trauma in their life. It’s not a pretty topic to talk about, let alone watch. Yet it is necessary.
My final score: 9/10
You can read Chris’s take on the film HERE