Before the film started, a friend and I made a bet.
He was of the belief that no DC villain, especially one as iconic and intricately linked to Batman as is Joker, needed an origin story. Being ever-optimistic, (and also having seen what Disney had done for Maleficent (a previously terrifying but now a, I would say, deeply misunderstood character), I was of the opinion the film would prove him wrong.
Long story short, I wish we had put money on it. I would be richer.
Joker is nothing short of eloquent brilliance. Without over-egging the Gotham-ic references, it runs over a range of themes that are beautifully sewn together to make a quilt that belongs in the National History Museum. If you’re new to earth, The Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a deeply sensitive clown (literally) with mental issues who dreams of being a standup comedian in the ever-worsening and darkening world of Gotham. This world’s impact on him ultimately blurs the line between “funny” and “chaos” for him until it results in his becoming the criminally insane beacon of hope called “Joker“.
This film has so many resonating themes running through it. One that’s prominent is the “incel” (involuntary celibate) culture that Arthur fits to a T. What’s fascinating is that Joker is set in a time period before there was a name for these group of men (and women). Joaquin Phoenix is dizzyingly and worryingly good in his portrayal of Arthur. He successfully researched and embodied the deep physicality of clowning as well as how it relates to the Joker of comics and past films.
Phoenix’s physicality at all times was what fascinated me the most about his portrayal. But that is not to take away from other aspects. His internal conflict in every scene is staggering. He never takes a break. Also, his Arthur lives on the border of infantile, enraged and yet almost flamboyant. There were a few times I pondered his sexuality because of how he seamlessly blurred the gender lines. Phoenix became in his performance bringing kaleidoscopic view of humanity.
The Joker has always been an instigator and orchestrator of chaos in the comics creating a spirit of solidarity amongst Gotham’s populous underclasses against the rich. An Anti-Robin Hood if you will. What was fascinating to watch was the journey from a fractious underclass where they steal from and hurt each other, whilst the rich have a herd mentality, barely noticing or understanding. The Waynes included. The existence of the poor, to a complete switch where, by the end, the rich are running, each for their own scattered lives, whilst the underclass rule. It was a fascinating exploration.
The worrying elements of Joker, is that it at times watched like a “how to incel/mass murder for dummies” because it’s justification of majority of the Joker’s actions in a such a way the audience empathises a little too much with his madness.
I have never hated The Joker as I always thought he was a justified villain, but Todd Phillips really got it right with this film. No one is perfect. Everyone, without exception, has evil in them; has some need for redemption, including, and this pleased me the most, the Waynes. This story, therefore, offers a different perspective on the fateful night that sets Bruce on his course.
I will admit that halfway through I wasn’t sure if they were being artistically wanky with some scenes and I was severely hopeful that every second of character development they were giving us would not end up being a “what was the point of that?” moment. But no, every nuance had a reason. It was like the most subtle unleashing of layer upon layer of the Joker from the marble sculpture that was Arthur Fleck.
Everything about this film, without exception, is glorious, from script to direction to acting to editing. Put simply, this film is genius.
Joker is in UK cinemas Friday 4th October 2019