Movie Review: Joker

Gabriel Anton, Staff Writer

The film, “Joker” serves as a origin story for the character, starting with the man behind the makeup, Arthur Fleck, going through his lonely and depressed life of a sign-twirling clown with a pathological laughing disorder who is consistently helpless from the unruly 1980’s society around him.  

The Joker debuted on a television screen in the role of a vivacious and twisted crime prince played by Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman television series, configuring the elements for the live action clown paradigm that would continue to define the character for decades.

After Heath Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for his thrilling portrayal of Joker, the potential for this character went to a new echelon. This was the first time a comic-book based character had been behind an Oscar winning portrayal, and film pundits began to look on comic-book related characters through a less superficial perspective. 

When Jared Leto took on the role fresh of his own Oscar, it was much more reduced than previous versions. About a year later in 2017, Warner Brothers studios revealed that “Hangover” director Todd Phillips was helming a contemporary version with Academy Award winning actor Joaquin Phoenix who portrayed on a very different Joker than we’ve seen before.  

After watching the 2019 film, there is nothing to question about the parallels it draws with today’s divided social and political atmosphere. At its core, it is a fundamental story about man vs. society reflected in the lives of those who terrorize in similar ways in our modern American society. This is the reason why “Joker” might be one of, if not the, year’s most reflective and controversial film. 

The film portrays its protagonist as a person you are supposed to be rooting against, someone who is portrayed very organically by Phoenix. He is a broken man falling into the depths of Joker’s signature chaotic madness without excluding any of the character’s inherent good or bad qualities, elevating the film’s urgency and clarity on its message. The film takes the audience on a journey of someone turning evil. It’s structured and portrayed in a way to make the audience see the causes and effects of something like this to happen. In this way, this film is also one of the most important films of the year.  

The thing that makes “Joker” controversial to most is ironically what elevates the film’s impunity. The very stark realization of this character is essentially the story of a comic-book character whose personality traits clearly echo those of modern terrorists. This results from the increased emphasis on unraveling the Joker character in film. With Phoenix, the character has endured levels of exploration like never before. And this time, it tells the story of someone that has a great probability of becoming in today’s society.  

When it comes to the actual execution of the film, the cinematography is very rich and accommodating to the time period it is in, complementing well the lively, colorful palate of the Joker’s makeup. The performance is definitely Oscar-worthy and serves for some very iconic cinematic moments.

The score was very appropriate, haunting the film’s most chilling and shockingly brutal moments.

The directing is very straightforward, as it centers mainly on the film’s eponymous main character. There are also many sequences in the film that draw homage from earlier films that follow this type of character, most prominently legendary director Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver,” in a sense, celebrating the existence of films like this. 

The film debuted with $93,500,000 last weekend, the fourth all time opening weekend for a rated R film. It also exists outside the current DC cinematic universe, proving that elements from major cinematic universes like Marvel or Star Wars can be made in ways that are important to real-time life problems.

This film excels in quality and social quandary while also portraying a comic-book character and story with great respect and accuracy. The film is in theaters now, just on the cusp of awards season.