by Kyle Arango
The press tour that has been going on for Joker has really been something fascinating to watch. It opened to rave reviews in Venice before getting a more mild praise in Toronto. Then they started doing interviews and now people are saying it is going to inspire violent people and the police forces are getting involved and the entire crew is just fed up with it. If you haven’t seen the movie, you cannot comment on it. I have now seen the movie and you know what I think? I think this is a very solid film that’s message keeps it from being great.
Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a man with a mental condition of uncontrollable laughter who takes care of his ill mom and works as a clown. Throughout his life Arthur is always subject to bullying and torment due to his condition. These acts of bullying one day pile up and become too much for Arthur to handle and forces him to go down a path of no return. I want to get this out of the way right now, DC comics fans this is nothing like the comics, so don’t start with that. This film plays nothing like the Joker in the comics and if you go into the film with that expectation you are already setting yourself up for disappointment. This film is really not a story about the Joker, it is the story of a very troubled man who is shunned by society and retaliates in the worst way. Comic books are open to interpretation and it is up to the filmmakers to decide how they want to translate the material. I believe fans of the comics are going to have a tough time with this one, but if they accept that this is something different and unique, they will have a better time.
Audiences will have a lot of emotions throughout this film and after it is all over. You will feel uncomfortable in your seat, disturbed by actions, unsettled by conversations, and taken aback by decisions made. It is how you choose to receive that will determine your feeling towards the film. For me, I found this film to be made greatly in a cinematic sense,but deeply troubling in the message it portrays. A dangerous man is pushed too far and snaps to the point of violence and cruelty. This instead of being looked at as problematic, is celebrated by the lower class of people and he is heralded as a hero. That is a deeply troubling message to send to those who may have a mental illness of their own, that violence is the answer to all of your problems. That responding with unspeakable things is something to be celebrated. I am not sure what Todd Phillips was trying to say with this film because if that is not the message he wanted to send, then that is a problem and if it is the message he wanted to send, that is an even bigger problem. I just don’t think it was needed in the structure of the film overall and it puts a grey cloud over the film.
Something that does deserve to be celebrated from Joker is the performance from its lead Joaquin Phoenix. This one of the most disturbing transformations I have seen an actor go through for a role and the result is both mesmerizing and terrifying. Phoenix is in every frame of this film and not for one second can you take your eyes off of him. The laugh is extremely uncomfortable to hear, especially when you know it is not coming from a place of humor. Phoenix altered his body for this role and the result is shocking. I truly believed every decision this character made because Phoenix never allowed me to think otherwise. When you talk all time performances, Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight as the Joker is one for the ages. I am not saying Joaquin Phoenix does a better job, but I am also not saying he doesn’t. Both of these performances will be talked about for decades and this character will forever have a stigma attached to it as one that takes actors to places. Expect heavy awards consideration for Phoenix.
With all that being said, Joker is one of the most disturbing and threatening films I have ever seen. I was uncomfortable more and more as the film progressed watching this mentally disturbed man slowly reach the point of no return. This is not your standard comic book film, and you sometimes forget it is about the Joker Go into this film with a sense of caution and maturity and when you walk out, consider what the film is trying to say and interpret that as you will, I know people will be doing the same for a long time.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars