by Staff Writer Varun Upadhyay
Grim and devastating, Todd Phillips’ R-rated supervillain origin story, Joker, is an incredibly insightful movie on the flaws of society under the guise of a comic book film. With a combination of stellar acting, an engrossing narrative arc, and impactful messages, Phillips successfully develops a sickeningly realistic story that makes for a very entertaining movie.
The film centers around Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a failed stand-up comedian who must constantly contend with the societal pressures that come along with having emotional incontinence, a severe neurological disorder. The subsequent descent into madness leads to the birth of the Joker, one of Gotham City’s most iconic supervillains.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the iconic supervillain in the film.
While Joker’s plot does an exemplary job at developing the backstory, it is a bit slow at times. Since the majority of the film is focused on establishing the Joker’s origin, the lack of the characteristic fast-paced action — as one might expect from a film about the Joker — is a bit of a disappointment. The film takes a turn from Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, forgoing thrilling action scenes for more emotionally impactful moments instead. However, the film was still an incredibly immersive experience, with the plot and storyline being elevated by stellar acting.
Phoenix’s incredibly realistic performance makes the movie disturbing to watch, yet simultaneously impossible to look away from. His acting is creepy and unsettling yet surprisingly sympathetic, even as Fleck becomes bent on destruction. Phoenix’s attentiveness to detail also deserves applause; even the smallest nuances, such as the way he walks, completely transforms by the end of the movie and fits in seamlessly with Fleck’s progression towards insanity. His interactions with other characters — cheery one moment, murderous the next — is thrilling to watch, and stays true to Joker’s maniacal nature as depicted in the comics. Phoenix’s commitment to the role is also more than evident — he lost more than 50 pounds in order to portray the depressed clown and give an authentic display of Fleck’s indigence. The dedication and sinister artistry of the acting is the single-most entertaining aspect of Joker and is what makes it an immersive, exhilarating movie to watch.
With the release of Joker comes a flood of controversy — unsurprising given that the movie showcases one of the most iconic characters in comic book history. Joker’s approach towards the issue of mental health is a topic of much debate, and stems from the fact that Fleck — almost paradoxically — becomes more at peace the more violent he becomes. Although this association of mental illness with violence is disturbing, the larger scope of the movie serves as a call to action to destigmatize the stereotypes surrounding mental health. From start to finish, Joker’s narrative arc is a brutally honest depiction of society’s mistreatment of the mentally ill. Similar to today’s climate where the mentally ill are seen as outcasts for existing outside social norms, Fleck laments having to hide his disorder in order to be deemed socially acceptable. He writes in his therapy joke diary, “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
Fleck writes in a comedy diary.
Packed with these emotionally stirring moments, Todd Phillips’ Joker is uniquely entertaining in its storytelling. Somehow, Phillips manages to make sitting in constant uneasiness for two hours an enjoyable experience. With an incredible performance from Phoenix and a gritty, realistic plot with powerful criticisms of society, it comes as no surprise that Phillips was able to create a thought-provoking, sinister masterpiece.