Director/Co-writer Todd Phillips’ Joker origin story depicts a gritty character study on the most notorious supervillian inked in comic book panels. Inspired by the seedy era of late 1970s New York City, this standalone Joker film reimagines the DC Comic villain‘s journey into cold-blooded killer madness. But unlike past deranged representations of the character, Phillips attempts to humanize and realistically approach the circumstances that created the Joker’s desire for homicidal mayhem.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hapless clown entertainer and aspiring comedian, but also gentle caretaker to his ailing mother (Frances Conroy). Fleck suffers from a condition that causes uncontrollable fits of laughter (Pseudobulbar affect) and his uncanny outbursts often invite trouble from outsiders. He misses social cues, gets beat up, or taken advantage of due to his disorder. Depressed and delusional, Fleck searches for his identity and looks to Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), a television talk show comedian, as a remote father figure and mentor. Inevitably, Fleck (eventually becoming the Joker) is portrayed as a victim of circumstances and this is what makes the film both provocative and reckless in its artistic interpretation.
Phillips touches on numerous themes–mental illness, child abuse, bullying, gun violence, social isolation, civil unrest, and exploitation from the wealthy elite. He seems to suggest that society produces these killers and this notion borders on dangerous with today’s gun culture mentality.
My movie-going “partner in crime” and I both agree the film was “exceptionally well-done and Phoenix’s performance is Oscar-worthy” in his schizophrenic behavior mimicking facial expressions from past Joker-actors like Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. His odd, contorted dancing and clown paint add to the film’s grotesque element. Ultimately, Phoenix created his own version of the supervillian, moving with a chaotic deliberate effort from empathetic to psychotic, melancholic to animated, and even timid to swaggeringly virile. The soundtrack veered wildly in a similar vein from haunting deep basses to glam rock and jazz. And Martin Scorsese‘s early work influences not only Phoenix’s performance, but also the cinematography and production design.
My guest went on to say that “sensationalizing violence is really irresponsible filmmaking given the current social climate,” but this auteur film provokes and pokes at the holes in our social fabric, begging the question–who really creates these monsters?
Director: Todd Phillips
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Crime, Drama
Runtime: 122 minutes
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images