Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is a cinematic narrative that examines the method to the madness of DC’s most prolific villain. Joker’s often eccentric theatrics may leave an audience divided in regard to the social commentary. On one side, you will have the group that will adorn and champion the movie’s main character and look to connect with the anarchic mind and sympathize with his strife trials, and tribulations. On the flip side, many of which may not choose to see the film, will simply follow the narrative of the beating heart of a deviant monster that turns Gotham into his personal playing grounds.
From a story side narrative, we begin to see the transformation of a man with clear and lingering issues of PTSD go from his unawareness to being overtly aware, psychopath to sociopath. We see an image of a man struggling to better understand his past and the feelings that have come with it (seeing glimpses of a plethora of abuse and life’s deficiencies). From that seed, we see his proposed self-purpose manifest, discovering his ability to gain a following through his own trials and tribulations. The route of his message is not one that follows traditional human sentiment in regard to Liberal humanistic faith, or the ability for society to continuously bend and push the envelope, but more of a trope to describe the ill conditions of his surroundings.
The real merit in the film is that Joker is the clear arbiter of his own story. Right from the get-go, the audience is made to feel uncomfortable and unsettled as the manifestation from psychopath to sociopath comes to its zenith. A la ‘method to the madness’.
Throughout the film, we see many overt references to film noir starring antiheroes looking at 1980s underbelly America and the emerging dystopia of the urban city. Gotham has always been compared to the film noir compatriot to that of the utopian Disneyland, and Joker provides a fresh vantage point from the perspective of the people that it affects. A sense of impending doom, anarchy, and the tyranny of an emerging mob into violence and instability are impressively expressed in the shifting allegiances.
At a first glance, Todd Phillips, most notably known for directing The Hangover, would not jump off the page for directorial choice awards to confront such material, but he uses his coy to direct the narrative in very adept ways. Cinematography provided by Lawrence Sher is beautiful, and absolutely reflects the time in which it was set. Flashes of Hans Zimmer pomp with the constant unsettling nature is gifted to us on silverware by Hildur Guðnadóttir.
Joaquin Phoenix’s profile was fascinating right from the beginning. Seeing a man reduced to such a famished and serpentine state left audiences feeling rightfully creeped out and anxious throughout. The almost screech-like cackling laugh provides anything but a sense of comedic relief, and further amplifies his anxiety-inducing persona. As dark and rigid his persona is made to be, the audience is treated to a performance that oddly makes him feel human throughout the sharp two hours of reel time. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance should not be compared to that of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight as their characters are presented in different phases of the Joker. Budding sociopath to a disruptive, almost god-like force of nature. Sympathy is the biggest connecting trait to the audience in Phoenix’s performance where the outcries of pain and violence are unilaterally shared amongst whole communities. Phoenix’s rendition turns the tide of revolution and revenge, pitting rich against poor in a flurry of anarchy.
Then there is the constant state of contained angst felt by audiences throughout the film. We do not see the morphing of a film go into its comic book embryo as we do with other adaptations. It is as real as it is human, with the anxiety and disturbing vibes. Because of this, there could be a polarizing reception for this film by audiences that do not immediately emanate with the mission statement.
The premise of Joker is to force open the dialogue between audiences, much like the fight between the rich and poor, rather than ignore it and let anarchy rule. It is a film that does not come without its challenges to perceive, with a level of provocativeness that with provide a mental blunder to even the most sympathetic. We witness the trope of what it is to be a killer, and the origins of one’s being that leads them to it. Art house meets dystopia meets blockbuster – challenge a film in 2019 that will leave you with the same feel as Joker.
The essence of Joker is that it really is no joke. Audiences are left anxious, perplexed, uncomfortable, but ultimately challenged in their own emotions and beliefs. What we may consider fundamental and traditionalistic ideas are left for new biases to emerge. The sheer complexity of the film showcases the greatness of a narrative that provides us with such nuance and clear sophistication. Open-mindedness is key, prepare yourself to feel uncomfortable, repulsed even throughout, and sucked into the world of what could prove to be one of the most provocative, powerful, and plentiful films of 2019.
Joker hits theatres on October 4, 2019