Joker: Movie Review

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Joker: Movie Review

A fanart take on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Praised by many fans with high ratings. Via creative commons.

A fanart take on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Praised by many fans with high ratings. Via creative commons.

A fanart take on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Praised by many fans with high ratings. Via creative commons.

A fanart take on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Praised by many fans with high ratings. Via creative commons.

Bryce Myers, Staff Writer

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The newest edition to DC Cinematic Universe is the highly acclaimed film Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, this film could be one of the most artistic, if not the darkest, new films out now.

A man by the name of Arthur Fleck is a failed clown and comedian living in a broken down Gotham City. The streets are filled with trash; the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. While Arthur is working as a clown, we see him doing his makeup looking in the mirror and trying to smile, a visual representation of the mental illnesses he suffers from as stated later when talking to his therapist. We then see a group of kids jump Fleck as he is working, and this triggers a laughing fit, which is a medical condition where he laughs whenever something bad is happening, however, it’s later found that it’s a result from PTSD. That is just the beginning.

 One scene in this film reveals the backstory of our Joker. He’s talking to his therapist and it’s brought up that he’s lived in a mental hospital for some time, now currently living with his mom. He desires medication to treat his mental illness because he wants to feel normal. There’s a lot of symbolism in this movie, one being the way he walks up the large flight of stairs. He struggles walking up and is slow, representing his slow, hard climb up into society. His connection with his mother has deep roots and it shows how much they depend on each other. 

Many scenes in this movie, including one with Murray a t.v show host he sees as a father figure, serve to introduce the concept of illusion, what is real and what is fake, throughout the film. Another such scene comes when we are introduced to Fleck’s female neighbor. We are led to believe a relationship is formed between them. She goes out with him, watches his stand up, and even defends the local serial killer– a person she is unaware of is actually the man standing next to her. Unfortunately, this turns into another scenario of illusion. The way the Joker character has always worked is his backstory is unknown or he tells different versions and Philips uses these illusions to keep that background true. It also leaves the audience wondering what they can believe and keeping their emotions in question on if to feel empathy for Arthur.   

A co-worker’s deception supplement’s Arthur’s descent into madness and murder. He’s given a gun, which costs him his job and enables him to commit his first three murders, which are pivotal to the movie. Phoenix’s acting is breathtaking as his grip on sanity is weakening and he tries to stay human even though he’s been cast out and killed others. His downfall is punctuated by a chilling dance which Phoenix uses to show Arthus way of expressing his feelings and staying sane after killing three men. This film’s visual aspect clearly does a good job at the common rule of “show don’t tell.”

Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father is featured in the news and condemns the killer and the entire lower class, calling them “a bunch of clowns.” Instead of boosting his campaign, this comment starts a riot as the lower class starts wearing clown masks just like the killer was described. Hearing that Arthur is upset because his mom said that’s his father and his conflicting issues with father figures is illustrated yet again. There’s a theme with Arthur and not having someone to love and take care of him which is shown by his arched back, hands always in his pocket and being underweight. Phoenix does all that to show the physical strain of his conditions and it adds more to the audience reactions when we can see him suffer physically as well as mentally.  

More background information comes out when Fleck confronts Wayne. Wayne tells Arthur the truth about his mom and his abusive childhood. This news is devastating because he doesn’t think his mom would lie to him but he finds the truth. Phoenix continues to laugh while sobbing and it’s hard to watch because you want to feel bad for him and you hope he’ll get saved from this torture which he does but it’s not in heroic fashion. The third act of the movie gets darker, realizing his mother lied to him about everything even his laughing condition further pushes Arthur into madness. He confronts his mother at the hospital but before he does anything, on the T.V Murray is playing and he plays some clips of Arthur’s stand up but proceeds to make fun of him, again proving how people Arthur felt would love him treating him like garbage. Arthur is called by Murray and asked to be on his show because his clip making fun of him was popular and he accepts the offer. People watching are left wondering what he’ll do, the film leaves you wondering if he’ll end his life or others. The only funny scene comes when his old work friends stop by and he kills one leaving the little person to have to ask for help to open the door. This was probably added to not make fans depressed considering how terrible he’s treated and it worked, causing theaters to laugh out loud then feel bad for laughing at such a dark movie. The transition is complete, before he slowly walked up the stairs, now he dances downstairs, accented with upbeat music. The symbolism in this movie is beautifully done, his struggle to make it in society represented by his slow walk up the stairs and his easy descent into insanity represented by the dancing down the stairs. Two detectives investigating the murder of the three men have been trying to talk to Arthur and they see him but Arthur runs starting a chase that goes to the subway. The subway is filled with people dressed as clowns to protest Thomas Wayne and on the train, someone is killed and everyone starts to attack the detectives. 

While waiting to go on the show, Murray goes to give Arthur the details and asks about the clown makeup, Arthur claims it isn’t political, rather just apart of his act. Before Murray leaves Arthur asks to be introduced as Joker, a name Murray gave him while making fun of his comedy, and this is the end of Arthur, his transition is complete and he’s now the Joker. Joker is called up and this is one of the best scenes in the movie, Joker tries to connect with the audience but they reject him. He proceeds to tell the world he’s the murderer everyone has feared. Joker explains how society has abandoned him and the music tenses up and the audience wonders if he’s going to kill himself or someone else. It’s heart-wrenching because you want to feel bad for him because it isn’t his fault but you know how Joker turns out to be. You wish there was someone in the movie to finally stand up for him and show him life isn’t always awful but it’s too late now. Now the city is in chaos as rioters are everywhere. While that is going on a man in a clown mask follows the Wayne family and we see the classic death of Bruce’s parents, showing how Joker and Batman’s paths are perfectly intertwined. 

The rioters stand around the true Joker and cheer for him as if he’s their leader. He begins to do his classical dance and then realizes his mouth is bloody. Smearing it on his face to represent that classic bloody smile the Joker has. It’s such a chilling and pivotal scene as Joker stands above a crowd of people rioting and it shows he’s finally recognized by society, however, this scene is worrisome because he was recognized as a killer instead of a human. 

The movie ends with Joker in Arkham Asylum speaking with a psychologist. He’s laughing, and it was noted by the director that this was Phoenix’s only real laugh. The film concludes with an ominous quote, “you wouldn’t get it.” 

This movie leaves so many questions to be answered and is truly up to interpretation.  Philips says he got inspiration from the comic The Killing Joke, where Joker says his backstory is, “multiple choice”. The Joker’s backstory is meant to be confusing, he’s never had a background until now and Philips uses this ending to keep some mystic to his character. The ending is up for interpretation and the audience gets to decide what really happened. I give this movie 5 stars out of 5 because of its storytelling, symbolism and character development. I recommend watching this movie but remember it’s rated R for a good reason.