“I used to think my whole life was a tragedy, but now I realise, it’s a comedy” – Arthur Fleck
How do you make a movie about a character such as the Joker, who was already given such an ace portrayal years before? Well, you don’t try and replicate it for a start. This film isn’t about a Joker who has tormented the streets of Gotham for years, this is a film about who that man once was and what drove him to such anarchy. An unhinged, unhealthy man on the verge of giving up. Having being beaten down his whole life (both literally and metaphorically), Arthur Fleck seeks retribution on an unjust, unforgiving society.
There’s still an awful lot of the unknown concealed within the origin of one of the most infamous villains in pop culture history and although taking influence from previous works around the character, Joker tells a mostly refreshing story.
Set in the early 80’s, Arthur Fleck lives with his mother in a segregated Gotham where the rich and poor appear worlds apart. It’s a world in which Arthur can’t seem to find himself being a part of. Failing as both a rent a clown and stand up comic with severe mental illness and a condition which causes uncontrollable laugher, even during the most inappropriate of times, Arthur knows he doesn’t belong in such society. With budget cuts forcing social workers out of there jobs, this leaves our down on his luck clown receiving very little help, even stopping the supply on his medication, which he was being granted an abundance of. Arthur, who’s just about had enough of being treated as a joke, decides to take matters into his own hands, fighting back against the real Wayne’s of the world.
Immediately a lot would be put on the shoulders of Joaquin Phoenix. Not only did he have some huge shoes to fill in regards to the previous portrayals of the ‘Clown Prince of crime’, but also for the first time, the character would be the main focal point of the story.
Phoenix’ performance is staggering. So much so, that many have already helmed it as the definitive performance of the Joker. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, this may just be the most raw, realistic depiction of the character thus far. After all, this isn’t about a villain that exists in a world of superhero’s, but more a character study of one mans descent into pure mayhem.
From its harrowing opening scene, you had a feeling Phoenix would make the role his own and he does exactly that. The Joker has never appeared more sinister or merciless, with his behaviour becoming increasingly unpredictable and the tone becoming progressively morbid. This isn’t a film that exists to fit in with the current direction of the franchise comic book flicks, but to achieve the exact opposite. By distancing itself from the systematic heroes tale, it becomes a refreshing look into the side of the villain.
Joker is as brutal and dark as you would expect, certainly if you have some vague knowledge with some of the source material regarding the beloved character. I don’t believe the movie glamorises or condones violence, but merely portrays and demonstrates it at its darkest, craziest form. This is written for the perspective of a psychopath, so if you’ve gone in expecting a popcorn experience then you’ve sorely missed the punchline.
When the director responsible for making movies such as The Hangover trilogy, Due Date and Old School gets signed up for the project, you would have every reason to expect the worst. Fortunately, he handles the far more serious material with delicate appreciation. It’s an uncomfortable viewing experience that is heightened by a gratifying central performance.
The subtlety in regards to its influences may be a little lost. Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy feel most recognisable, but it certainly comes off as more of an appreciative nod as apposed to becoming a straight knock off or mockery.
Joker is a movie that has already triggered the snowflakes of this generation and become somewhat of a classic for the average movie goer. It doesn’t need to apologise for its much more sombre approach to comic book storytelling, as it caters to a different audience. This is a Joker we’ve never seen before and much like the lead character, lives very much in its own world, where it deserves to stay.