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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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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