Writer Liam Murray takes on the most controversial film of the year.
After first seeing the teaser trailer for Todd Phillips’ Joker back in April, I was instantly excited for the film’s eventual release. I say eventual given that this film has been talked about and anticipated for so long that finally ending the speculation was an appealing prospect. However, you’ll probably leave this film asking more questions than you did going in. Indeed, the film’s release was undoubtedly going to open up a can of worms when it comes to issues regarding mental health, and the repercussions of violence in pop culture. This film has received a multitude of media backlash, so I’m going to begin by affirming that films have always depicted violence, and it isn’t their job to teach the audience morality. So ignore that nonsense, see the film, and enjoy it for what it is; none other than a cinematic masterpiece.
As a quick disclaimer, I am a typical cynic of comic book films. My exception, like most who share my scepticism, is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and no one would doubt that Joaquin Phoenix has has very large shoes to fill. Like Nolan’s films, Joker doesn’t pander to comic book tropes, but goes its own way to illustrate a dark and twisted character study of a lonely man reaching his breaking point.
Everything that happens in this film could happen in real life, showing us that someone as diabolical as the Joker could easily exist, and worse, manifest from society’s inattention. This is not an easy film to watch for obvious reasons, but should all films be judged by how comfortable they make us feel? Joaquin Phoenix is excellent, utilizing his immense acting prowess to make the audience sympathise with Arthur Fleck, the man who will become the Joker. Phoenix and director Todd Phillips depict the Joker as an anti-hero rather than super villain, making the character vastly more interesting and understandable. Watching Arthur’s transformation from troubled oddball to menacing and extravagant anarchist is terrifically compelling, allowing his story to become uplifting in the most disturbing way possible. This film shares obvious parallels with two of Martin Scorsese’s most brilliant films, Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, as Fleck reflects shades of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, loners at the end of their tether. Just like both films, Joker stars Robert De Niro, who similarly shines alongside Phoenix.
You may think you know what you are getting yourself into, but the film has so many twists that you frankly stop expecting anything. This approach is perfect when depicting someone as unpredictable as the character of the Joker. Expect a good time at the least, and to think, as this film promotes important questions when it comes to those on the fringe of society, and the consequences of prolonged isolation amongst the melee of desperation and decay within certain pockets.