So, before I began; “Where have you been?” You might ask. The answer…Stuff came up. Changes in life. I wanted to create more and critique less, and in the process I neglected doing these reviews for a long while. The only movies I could have written about (other than maybe Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die…which reminds me, I should do a series on him), were Marvel movies. Primarily the Marvel Cinematic Universe…So here we are, and we’re going to talk about the most different DC Comics movie that’s out there. This is Joker.
Set in 1981, our story revolves around a few weeks to a few months in the life of Arthur Fleck (Played by Joaquin Phoenix), a socially rejected and lonely man who lives pay-check by pay-check in Gotham City as a Party Clown and aspiring Stand-Up Comedian. He lives with his physically and mentally ill mother, and has acquaintances, but no close friends. He also suffers from emotional incontinence, which leads to bouts of intense laugher during inappropriate times. His dream is to make it as a Stand-Up Comedian and appear on the Murray Franklin show, which is both his and his Mother’s favourite TV program (and he looks up to Murray (played by Robert De Niro) as a father he never had). However, the road to that dream isn’t a smooth 1. New realities and revelations are revealed, and any attempts of security and comfort gradually get more and more…snuffed out.
Now to do what we’ve done in the past, we break down the movie into its building blocks:
The acting in this film was excellent in general, with Joaquin Phoenix carrying most of the weight and being the sole focus. By dropping 20kg quickly, Phoenix went from looking excellent for 45 years old to looking about 55 and unwell in his face – I’d say it was a way to present a difficult upbringing with a lack of food and a ton of meds, and I would call that real dedication to the cause. Everybody else plays off him with an excellent variety or combination of concern, fear, cruelty or apathy, usually through misunderstanding him or his intentions.
The character work, once again, mostly revolves around Joker. What made him stand out compared to other versions of the character, is that Phoenix didn’t look at previous interpretations for inspiration. In the process, you will see nothing of Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero in his performance…or even the comic books. To say that this version of the Joker is the most child-like and innocent is an understatement. His evil is born out of a search for love, security and acceptance until his actions say otherwise. There is so much he doesn’t know, and he gets punished for it. His acceptance, is a distant by-product. The other characters range, depending on how they react to him. The man he think is his father, for instance (I’m trying to be spoiler free), approaches him in such a way, that you don’t know what’s real yourself…and what makes it very sad is when you know that this kind of approach isn’t new.
The story is 1 that needs to be watched more than once, as it includes, potentially, an influence from a particular movie from 20 years ago. I will say it now – this is not a Superhero movie. It is set in the Batman universe. But there isn’t a superhero to be found anywhere. This is closer to some of the more challenging films that were made around the same time. Psychological thrillers that made you ask what was real, as well as explore mental illness. In my case, I saw elements of Taxi Driver and Network present. It is also a film that challenges you to see the real villain. Yes, Joker is the main villain of the Batman stories, but in this case he’s closer to an anti-hero and a victim. A product on what the world has done to him.
The music score is by Hildur Guðnadóttir, an Icelandic musician who also scored the highly-acclaimed HBO/SKY mini-series Chernobyl, and provided the cello for Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Revenant…in other words, you’re in for some pretty beautiful and haunting sounds that aren’t going to wash out of your clothes anytime soon. The Soundtrack on the other hand is a different sort of tone, adding an almost bi-polar quality. For 1 thing, all the songs are either happy or bittersweet tunes from before 1981, and could be a representation of Arthur trying to enter a comfortable, nostalgic and happy place in his head, while the world around him is eating him up and spitting him out. You’ll notice this in the times when he’s imagining himself in a better place, and dancing. As a storytelling tool – this was fantastic. Then you have the news of a song called Rock N Roll Part 2, which, to the delight of many people, found out that the royalties were not being paid to its unrepentant creator.
The cinematography was artsy, yet perfectly composed and coherent. It is also presented in a way that even the most brutal scenes are watchable. The choice of lighting is particularly fitting throughout the film.
Would I recommend Joker? Absolutely! If you treat it like anything but a Superhero movie, you will actually get more from it than if you expected any Superheroes showing up to stop him. Because this film is just a prequel as such to Batman…It is an interpretation. There are so many ways in which The Joker could come to be, and this is 1 of them. It’s not only 1 of the best comic book movies out there – it’s also 1 of the best films to come out in the last 10 years. It was a risky project that could have financially flopped when it decided to be art instead of entertainment, and the gamble was a jackpot. Much like the classics, we’ll be looking back on this 1 in a good way. I will also add that this film is not the type to cause angry young white men to go on shooting sprees, nor is it racist, and whoever suggested this has an agenda. All you have to do is watch the film to find out, and stop listening to the propaganda. You might be in for a surprise.