Movie Review: Joker

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Two things drew me to the new movie release, Joker. I love origin stories that reveal how a well known character evolved. Joker is such a movie, featuring one of the most iconic villains in the DC Universe. And, I appreciate what actor Joaquin Phoenix brings to any role he plays. I’ve heard raves for his performance in Joker and I looked forward to seeing it.

My sister Linda and I caught a Sunday afternoon matinee. After a very full weekend, a couple of hours at the theater was a welcome reprieve.

Movie Review: Joker contains mild spoilers. If you don’t want to know anything about this film, stop reading now!

Movie Review Joker Title Meme

Movie Review: Joker – Cast

This thriller/crime drama stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen. Todd Phillips co-wrote and directed Joker. The film carries an R rating for violence, intense scenes and language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

Put on a Happy Face

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) lives simply with his mother (Conroy) in a run down apartment building in Gotham City. He barely makes a living as a clown, performing in one time gigs at hospitals and retail shops. Arthur aspires to do stand up comedy and scribbles jokes and comedic ideas in a well worn notebook that he carries with him. He truly believes his purpose in life is to make people laugh and to bring joy to the world.

However, life is challenging for Arthur. He suffers from a condition called pathological laughter that causes him to cackle when he is nervous or uncomfortable. His inappropriate laughter invites ridicule from bullies and disapproval from those who don’t understand him. Unfortunately for Arthur, people laugh at him, not with him, and taunts follow.

Movie Review Joker Clown
It’s tough being a clown in Gotham City.
Arthur the Stand Up Comedian
It’s even tougher to do stand up comedy!

Send in the Clowns

To combat his loneliness and his difficulties interacting with people, Arthur creates alternate realities in his imagination. His idol, late night talk show host and comedian Murray Franklin (De Niro) embraces Arthur as a son and encourages him…in Arthur’s imagination. And likewise, neighbor Sophie (Beetz), who lives down the hall and smiled at him once, becomes his pretend girlfriend.

He writes in his notebook:

“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”

When they aren’t laughing at his peculiarities, people don’t notice him at all. Arthur feels invisible and not real.

The troubled man’s lifepath shifts when he decides enough is enough, on the city subway. Three wealthy young men torment Arthur when he laughs uncontrollably, and they begin to beat him. Dressed in his clown costume and armed with a gun, he fights back for the first time, shooting the men to stop the attack. That act of violence divides Arthur, changes him, from a man with hopes and dreams to a man with a much darker purpose.

In Gotham City division grows as well. The killer clown on the subway becomes a hero to some. Clowns show up all over the city, wreaking havoc. The lower class rises against the upper class, exemplified by billionaire Thomas Wayne (Cullen) who is running for mayor of the city. When Arthur discovers a connection between him and Wayne it only further loosens the comedian’s fragile grip on what’s real.

Movie Review Joker Arthur
Arthur Fleck
Robert De Niro is Murray Franklin
Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin.

The Transformation from Clown to Joker

Feeling betrayed by the people closest to him, in reality or in his imagination, Arthur begins a transformation. The killing on the subway train emboldens him. He uses violence as a way to get back at those who have hurt him.

In a strange way, Arthur’s awkwardness around people lessens as he loses the last shreds of reason and decency. That peculiar freedom lends grace to his thin body and adds a confidence he’s never had before.

The Joker is fully born on a night that should have marked the realization of a dream. The man he once idolized unintentionally christens him with a new name and a new identity, and launches Arthur into a new career. He is a struggling comedian no more. He is Joker, the Clown Prince of Gotham.

Movie Review Joker is born
Joker is born. His dance down the steps is one of the most riveting scenes in the film.

My Thoughts on Joker

This is a phenomenal origin film. Todd Phillips wanted a fresh story about Batman’s arch nemesis and he certainly created one. Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver used elements of Joker lore to produce an original story that could stand on its own. I love how familiar aspects of this villain, such as his laughter, provide launching points for new discoveries in the film.

Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. He lost 52 pounds for this role. According to him, it gave his body surprising fluidity, allowing him to move in ways that opened creative possibilities during the story development. Phoenix portrays Arthur in such a way that one feels compassion for him. He is painful to watch, at times, and yet he is captivating in his flawed humanity. I rooted for him…right up until his soul fractured and he embraced violence as a way of life. Then I hurt for him.

And that’s the beauty of this film. It’s more than the transformation of a broken man into a villain. Arthur’s pain shaped him in ways that he barely perceived. His realization that he had never been happy a moment in his life sharply alienated him from his desire to make people laugh and to bring them joy.

Arthur’s life felt devoid of joy. What he sought for others was in reality what his own soul longed for. And yet…society and those he thought cared for him only pushed him farther along the path to villainy. Of course, he could have chosen differently. However the point of the movie is that he was a victim and he allowed that role to define him. There is so much truth in Joker’s story and it broke my heart, in unexpected ways.

After Movie Review: Joker Check Out the Film

If you enjoy Joaquin Phoenix, origin stories or the DC/Batman Universe…check out this complex film. It’s beautiful, in a gritty, eye opening sort of way. And it’s devastating, in a heart wrenching, lip chewing sort of way. Joker offers a peek into the life of a man who twisted himself into a new creation and lost himself along the way. Joker might make you weep, for him and for all those who are lost.

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker.
Movie Review: Joker

Trailer for Joker

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And find your Joker items here, including the haunting movie soundtrack:


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79 Replies to “Movie Review: Joker”

  1. Thank you for this in depth review. I was in two minds about seeing this movie, as friends found it disturbing, but you’ve persuaded me to see it when I get the chance. I write, occasionally, about mental health issues and that aspect of the movie really intrigues me. #SeniSal

    1. Yes I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. It is a disturbing film in that it shines a light on mental health issues and loneliness and lack of compassion for others. I can’t stop thinking about this movie!

    2. I read your blog post. I can’t comment there because it requires a WordPress login and WordPress doesn’t accept any of my valid passwords.

      Here’s my comment:

      A positive outlook is so important. And then there’s putting a plan into action sometimes too. I was very nearly wheelchair bound, and most definitely in pain 24/7 and had been for more than 20 years when I wondered if I could change my own health. Doctors had shrugged me off long ago. I did take charge of my health by switching to a plant based diet. I’ve regained my mobility and my life! No wheelchair, no cane, no pain, no major health concerns and I had those piling up too. I don’t know what your health concerns are. Nor am I saying that going plant based would fix them all. I’m just saying, don’t give up! And I’m saying that sometimes we have to find our own way. Happy to discuss more.


  2. I loved this movie. Being an aspiring filmmaker and someone who suffers from depression, this movie hit home with me in terms of mental health, and overall filmmaking. Enjoyed your review.

    1. I loved it too. I’m still thinking about this movie, in fact. It’ll be following along to see what you create! Best wishes in your film making.

  3. I haven’t seen any of these movies so I was hesitant to read reviews. Very glad I read yours because it’s so thorough. I’ll probably watch them later this year!

  4. it is one of those movies where I want to see, yet I don’t know if I will spend the money. I do adore Joaquin Phoenix – and I think he is a fantastic actor.

    I’ve watched another movie reviewer state how much they do enjoy this movie. Though talked about how this film tends to ‘glorify’ violence. Did you see that?

    Perhaps with all this I might convince the husband to take me. Rofl.

    1. Joaquin is worth the price of the film! No I didn’t think it glorified violence at all. It is an intense film. But it goes so much deeper than a crime drama or an origin story. Joker offers a peek into an ugly world where people who are different are made fun of and mistreated. It’s eye opening I think and creates compassion for others. I can’t stop thinking about this movie. And truthfully, it’s made me look at people differently. It makes me wonder, who do I know, that needs compassion, someone to truly listen, and genuine encouragement? I’d love to know your thought if you go see it.

  5. I have read a few reviews of this movie and yours seems very upbeat most have found this movie dark, depressing, with no good guy.

    1. I’ve heard those reports too. It is an intense film but it’s so much more than dark and depressing. For me it was eye opening. Arthur represents so many who want more for themselves in life, want to be happy…and yet face overwhelming challenges. How people respond to him and treat him pushes Arthur to become the villain. Of course he had choices. But the film offers a peek into how a person can lose his or her way and become someone other than who they hoped to be. It’s an intriguing and powerful movie. And it still makes tears come to my eyes when I think about it.

  6. I was on the fence about seeing this in the theatre or waiting to rent at home as it did look very dark. Thank you for your in-depth review and thoughts!

    1. It is dark. But there are redemptive qualities to it I believe! I look at people differently, since watching Joker.

  7. Thank you for posting this detailed review. I still haven’t seen the movie and have been hesitant to go for quite a bit… not a fan of comics at all. but all the feedback I see, makes me want to watch it 🙂

    1. I think it’s worth viewing! It’s an excellent origin story. But it’s more that that. It creates compassion for others too.

  8. I loved this review. I wasn’t really wanting to see the movie, but with what you thought you have now piqued my interest. I have always liked the Joker character and it would be interesting to see his origin story.

  9. At first I didn’t think I would like the movie based on the Joker theme, but after reading your review, I can’t wait to watch it! I will let you know what I think after I do.

  10. Thanks for the review, it was never on my list. Though I am happy to hear that it is an interest and complex storyline. I genuinely appreciate that your review had no political or agenda heavy opinions! I still won’t see it, but only because it’s not my kind of story.

    1. Yes this is an origin story which explains how Arthur became Joker. The uncontrollable laughter is actually a very sad part of the film.

  11. Aaaaah, Joaquin Phoenix it has been a long time since the 90s. But, it is nice that the Joker got a new original story. I really like the 90s’ cartoon version of the Joker but I am up to see the new movie. I am actually more excited about the new Harley Quinn movie. She is my favorite Batman baddie!

  12. I can’t wait to see this movie. I love the realness of it and the in your face information about mental issues. I think more people should educate themselves on how real these issues are.

    1. I totally agree! This movie shines a light on mental illness and also on how people respond/react to those with it.

  13. I have not seen it yet; however, I liked your review very much. It stayed on the merit of the film and didn’t compare it to the world today or the impact it may have on society to see it. I’m more likely to see it in the theater instead of waiting after reading this 🙂

  14. Good review. I’m not a fan of these types of movies, however, I will share your review with my daughter as she loves the Joker. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I have heard so many great reviews of this movie. I generally avoid the movie theater but may need to go just to see this while still playing on the big scrrebmn!

  16. Some of my favorite films are the ones that cause me to think long after the credits have rolled. The Joker sounds like one that will challenge me and deepen my understanding.

  17. Thank you for that in depth review. I like to know something about the film before I see it. It’s not a spoiler, rather a preventive measure from wasting time and money. Now I know I won’t be wasting anything because now you made it that I HAVE to see this. Thanks again.

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