‘Joker’ movie review
director: Todd Phillips
release date: October 4, 2019
star rating: four out of five
review by Kyle Lavin
(Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead.)
“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” This chilling line from the infamous title character, more distinctly identified as an infamous villain, Joker, sets an unsettling tone for an origin story. Then again, a story about a villain shouldn’t necessarily bring comfort and consolation by the very essence of it being about a villain. This movie is not only an origin story for Joker, but for Batman and the corrupt Gotham City as we famously know it. Really, this movie’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, turning into the monstrous villain of the Joker is quite the opposite of the beginning quote. Truly, it is a tragic tale that is perfect for the character and goes leaps and bounds in expressing it. No happy endings for the movie-going audience, yet there is an experience of satisfaction.
Todd Phillips, the creator of The Hangover films, surprised me by this film. I was not expecting a visually stunning, musically heart-pounding, powerful performance — an emotional rollercoaster of a film. I will say that this is the best work I’ve seen from him. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is absolutely Oscar-worthy (even if he never gets the actual award). If there are any other areas worthy of respect, it’d be the music and sound departments. In many scenes, I was sitting in my seat and wondering if I could hear someone walk into the theater from the top entrance and wrestle with papers, but I realized that it was actually the film’s sound. The music fuels an anxiety-rich audience. “Joker” is a masterful movie.
To speak more to the story, which is the meat here, I didn’t feel as though the film spoke socially in support of evil. The audience knows what is right and wrong. I think it’s worth pointing that out due to many controversial new stories and whatnot. With that said, the movie opens up with Arthur Fleck working as a clown and preparing his makeup. For some reason that we do not know, Arthur is unhappy and forces a smile on himself with his fingers, and a small tear runs down the side of his face. Quickly, we cut to him outside a shop in downtown Gotham with a sign to drive customers inside. Arthur’s sign is stolen by a couple of kids who eventually beat Arthur to the ground.
Later, Arthur is watching late-night television with his mother and begins to imagine himself on the show interacting with the show’s host Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro, and they have a nice conversation as Arthur implies that he associates fatherly attributes toward Murray. We, as the audience, quickly realize this was just in his head. That brings me to one of the most important aspects of this film. At the end of the film, after Arthur kills some businessmen while dressed as a clown — which begins to drive Gotham insane — he kills his mother and one of his clown co-workers. Then, he is able to be on Murray’s show after they made fun of a video of him doing stand-up comedy, and he kills Murray on live TV. Finally, we find Arthur in what seems to be a mental hospital. The scene opens with Arthur laughing, and the hospital worker asks him why he was laughing. His response is, “You wouldn’t get it.” Throughout the movie, we are presented with many instances that show us Arthur’s perspective and are eventually proven that some of what we see is only in his mind. That begs the question: is this all in Arthur’s mind? Is he just a crazy man in a hospital who fantasized this entire movie? The ending begs many questions. There’s so much more to say.
This movie definitely is a great conversation-starter for those who have seen it. It is extremely interesting how a movie so dark and, specifically, about the origin of the most notorious DC comic book villain is so thought-provoking. It’s not necessarily about relatability or connection with the character, but about the story of the film. The story is what draws you into the film and is also what kicks you right out and makes you ask yourself, “What just happened?”
I highly recommend this film to people who admire the art of filmmaking, DC, and thought-inspiring stories. If you don’t fall into those categories, then this film might be a little too much for you. Not every movie is for every movie-goer. I rate “Joker” a four of five, honestly, because I’m not comfortable giving it a perfect score. It was a little too dark for me at times, and I still struggle to understand how the story articulates goodness. It expresses awfulness perfectly, but is that a good thing? Why make this movie, and why make this dark tale so excellent?