Todd Phillips’ Joker has been the talk of the town for a while now. In fact, if you have been on the internet lately, then you have heard mentions of it (whether it be through memes or articles). However, between the time that it won first place in the Venice film festival and its eagerly anticipated release on October 4, it has sparked a lot of controversy, notably surrounding its disturbing content and potential for promoting violence amongst certain audiences. In fact, having read up on the film before going to see it, I was worried that I would not be able to handle it. The truth is that, as usual, the Internet has blown things out of proportion. If you know the Joker, then you know what to expect when you go see a movie with his name as the title. He is, after all, one of the most notorious comic book villains. A movie alone cannot be blamed for the violent acts witnessed in today’s society.
Phillips creates a tragic backstory, which remains ambiguous enough to suit the Joker’s image, while still interconnecting with important elements of the DC comics. This adaptation follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a lowly, unfunny clown who aspires to become a comedian. Fleck lives with his sickly mother (Frances Conroy) in a drab, grey apartment in Gotham City, and the two of them struggle to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Fleck suffers from several severe mental disorders, notably a condition that causes him to respond to uncomfortable or frustrating situations with uncontrollable laughter. This brilliant addition to the Joker’s character blurs the lines between joy and sadness throughout the movie and makes it very difficult for the audience to tell when he is happy and when he is upset, or if he even feels emotions in the same way as we do. Right from the very beginning of the film, when Fleck is ambushed by a group of delinquent boys, it is clear to us that society has not been kind to him. He is an awkward loner, and not even his therapist cares about him. If he turns to crime, that is society’s fault, not his. It sounds ridiculous when I put it like that, but Joaquin Phoenix portrays this pathetic character so convincingly that the audience can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Phoenix embodies the Joker perfectly, complete with disturbing fits of laughter that will haunt you for days, and entrancing dance moves that he sprinkles throughout the film, only adding to the disconcerting atmosphere. However, despite how convincing Fleck’s side of the story may seem, it is important to remember that Phillips loves to play with the truth throughout the movie, inevitably creating a very unreliable narrator. Other notable elements that contributed to creating this unsettling ambiance are the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, which perfectly captures the gritty, dangerous vibe that made 1970s New York City what it was, and the costume design from Mark Bridges, which brings out the essence of Joker with a stunning red, orange and green three-piece suit.
All in all, whether it is because I have always been a fan of the Joker or because this was simply a considerable cinematographic feat, I very much enjoyed this movie. Was it the movie of 2019? Well, I really wouldn’t know since I haven’t seen every movie that came out this year, but I do know that I was hooked from start to finish, and intend on going to see it in the theatres again. I definitely recommend that you go see it too.