Joker - A Benchmark In Cinematic History
If you are looking for a movie that will be studied by the entertainment industry for years to come, Joker is your movie. The cinematography, directing, acting, story, and overall aesthetic is something that no DC or Marvel movie has even come close to touching. This movie deserves all the controversy and questions that it is forcing people to ask and make light of, as well all the accolades it will surely garner. Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the titular character is amazing. All at once you feel scared, disturbed, upset, and unsure of just exactly what you were watching. This movie harkens back to the days of character study movies where you often don’t feel sympathy for the “protagonist.” Sometimes there are no happy endings, and a lot of times characters don’t deserve them. Joker makes you question whether or not the main character, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), is a product of his environment, if he was destined for malevolence from the beginning, or if both melded him into the elastic and persistent embodiment of chaos and death. Aside from maybe one too many dancing sequences, Joker is an excellent film through and through, that establishes an origin for a character who has famously eluded such a thing for the entirety of its existence. Let’s get started with the plot:
Set in the early 80’s Joker follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a 30ish year old man, who lives with his physically and mentally ill mother in the slums of an ever-decaying Gotham City. Stuck in a job he hates, in a life he doesn’t even believe is real, and in a world that kicks him down at every turn, Fleck is “forced” to take matters into his own hands and consequently reveals more about himself than he wants to initially accept. With a new outlook on life, and after inadvertently starting an uprising in Gotham, we see just how damaged the world made Fleck, and how he returns the favor tenfold.
Now that we’ve established a spoiler-free plot, let’s get into it.
For a multitude of reasons, many feel like Joker is a movie that never needed to be made. Some felt that they didn’t want an origin for a character whose lack of origin only added to its mystique, or they felt as though Joker holds no real weight without its main “antagonist” (Batman); but the film is much more than the character itself, proving to be more of a test for society, and how we view people as well as the world. As I watched this film, I also watched people leave the theater, and always during heart-wrenching turning points of the film. As you would imagine, Joker follows a character that is mentally unstable, and through the lens of Arthur Fleck, we’re thrown into a world of misfortune, violence, death, and fear (but eventually a lack of, which is even more frightening). And due to the film’s dedication to grounding everything in realism, I feel the actions and events in this film hit too close to home for some. Although Joker is about Arthur Fleck, at no point does the film ever try to make you sympathize with him (even though some may try to see the movie through a sympathetic lens). Instead, you see one misfortune after another, and how a life of lies and abuse can lead to a horrific outlook on life, and how that pain can be spread to inspire hate in others. This viewpoint is established right away from the beginning… a man down on his luck, at a dead-end job, with nothing in life to keep him going. Although the first hour reflects on a period in Fleck’s life where he is a “nobody,” it shows just exactly the banality that makes an abused “nobody” quite the opposite.
With Inception-like writing, the audience views the life of Arthur Fleck unsure of what is happening, and if what they are seeing is real. This is masterfully executed by Zazie Beets’ part in the film, as she presents an emotional outlet for the titular character, but towards the end of the film, is shown to be nothing more than a mental muse for a possibility that could’ve been had Arthur went down a different path. By making this relationship more than something than it actually is, like a relationship with a woman, Arthur builds up a life in his mind that he may accept as normal, but ultimately unattainable. This makes the film prove difficult to understand, as Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), a talk show host, whose recurring presence in the movie takes Arthur away into fantasies he wishes to attain (being a famous stand-up comedian and getting invited onto the Murray Franklin show), proves to be more real than the “reality” of his relationship with Beetz; a reality that Fleck brings to a grinding halt, and tells the audience, “If you didn’t hear me before, hear me now,” a dangerous precedent of today’s current violent climate and what makes this film so controversial.
All the while, the cinematography, acting, and directing, immerse you into a tense world of nightmarish dreams that seem all too real, and reality that you want to take back from having seen. Joker will stand to be a masterpiece film for years to come, and one that will be debated even longer. If you plan on seeing this film, remember that just because unfortunate events happen to individuals, doesn’t mean you hav
e to be sympathetic towards the actions they take because of it. Everyone has a choice, and some people make the wrong ones. Joker serves as an extremely artistic platform to show how one bad day, one individual, and seriously unfortunate circumstances can create a monster… and nothing more.