The yardstick when it comes to measuring the performance of any actor playing the infamous DC comic villain Joker has been, up until now, compared with Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in the Dark Knight. Certainly, we remember Jared Leto’s gangster tattooed version paling in comparison to Ledger’s anarchist. But ten years on, Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips have managed to create something unique that stands its own against Nolan’s classic.
The 2019 Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a down-on-his- luck professional clown who has an uncontrollable laughter, the result of a mental condition (that we led to initially believe). Arthur lives in 80’s Gotham, a city that is on the brink of chaos which Arthur finds himself engrossed in almost every single day. His demeanor and profession are the subject of constant ridicule. His existence itself is abused and Arthur is no stranger to being on the wrong end of the stick and the taste of blood in his mouth. Living with his mother, Penny in a derelict building, Arthur finds a friend in single mother Zazie Beetz’ Sophie Dumond. While I felt she was way underused in the movie, her presence helps elevate the misery that is Arthur’s life. Arthur’s passion for stand-up comedy leads him to perform at a club but his uncontrollable fits of laughter create a literal joker out of him and the taped performance ends up on Murray Franklin’s late-night show. It becomes a sensation and Arthur is soon invited to guest star on the show. This all happens once Arthur loses his day job as a clown once a concealed gun falls out of his pocket during a performance at a children’s hospital. It is the same gun that Arthur uses for self-defense during the train ride where he is abused by three wealthy men who end up dead. This act is shunned by the media and prospective candidate for mayor, Thomas Wayne publicly condemns it and refers to the poor of the city as clowns. This leads to a revolt with Arthur’s Joker being the symbol of the poor, to fight against the rich. However, when Arthur discovers that his mother has been hiding the secret of his parentage, the mentally-defective Arthur begins his spiral down to complete madness – thus giving rise to the birth of the Joker.
The best part about this film is undoubtedly Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. A layered and multi-faceted approach to playing the character, Phoenix manages to get the audience to empathize with his situation which makes his descent into madness all the more convincing. The film is bolstered by superb cinematography and the consistent tone combined with the score does wonders. While this film is mentioned as a standalone DC Dark movie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this Joker go up against Batman but then again I fear that it would rob this film of its purity.
With this film already winning the Golden Lion, it’s off to an amazing start. DC should keep investing in director-centric films leaving Marvel to do the franchising. Both have their appeal. But films like this do more to further the cinematic art form by telling the stories that emphasize on the human condition. While the film has been the topic of controversy due to the amount of violence shown in it, the stylization of the character and world require the violence shown in order to come across as authentic.
As a stand-alone film, I terribly enjoyed Joker – I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece but it’s certainly a film that pushes boundaries. And therefore, requires to be viewed on a big screen. Do not miss this!
Courtesy of Akash SK