Today I will be reviewing the new 2019 film Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Philips. This is one of the many hit comic book films created in the last few decades. But unlike the vast majority of comic book films like Avengers, Man of Steel, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman, which are still good films, THIS one follows a protagonist who is a murderous villain. It is an origin story for Batman’s most notorious threat — the Joker. The Joker, also known as Arthur Fleck, has made appearances on the big screen prior to this movie in films such as The Dark Knight, Suicide Squad, and other animated productions. In those movies, however, the Joker is depicted more as pure evil and we mainly just see it from the perspective against him. The 2019 Joker is also more focused on just learning about the protagonist as opposed to just good versus evil plots. We learn about Arthur Fleck and his unfortunate journey from being a struggling guy with a bad past, to a murderous villain who inspires violence. One of the main reasons he struggles in life is due to his mental issues, and getting beaten by a cruel world. BUT he does end up happier in the end of the movie than he was at the beginning.
The movie begins with showing us a day in the life of Arthur Fleck. He mainly works as a party clown who is aspiring to become an actual comedian. Fleck suffers from a mental disorder where he spontaneously bursts out laughing uncontrollably, and this condition results in him getting beaten up, getting dirty looks, and being made fun of. He is constantly depressed and suicidal as well, and constantly fantasizes about situations in which he kills himself. Eventually, he loses access to his prescription medication and also gets fired from his job. He also commits his first murders against men in the subway train who were beating him up and making fun of his condition. These factors begin his turning point into more evil, but also more happiness. Fleck begins to imagine being in an intimate relationship with his neighbor right after he commits those murders, as if the murders aroused him and made him feel more alive. He also feels happier when his murders start gaining recognition, and how he is causing riots against those in power who supposedly don’t care about “people like him.” He then takes advantage of an opportunity he gets to be on one of his favorite shows, with talk show host Murray Franklin. While live on the air, he expresses to all of the viewers how society has unjustly treated and neglected the less fortunate and people like him. He blames Murray for being yet another upper class bully, and shoots him on live television. This inspires more riots and he gains a bigger following, as well as gaining a lot of recognition. This is the most alive and happy Arthur feels throughout the entire movie, and it seems he has found himself. The movie ends with a happier Arthur Fleck in an insane asylum attempting to escape, and then the credits roll.
The overall theme of the film was dark, as it was highlighting issues having to do with mental illness and a very cruel world. There are several times throughout the movie where Fleck is beaten up, looked down upon, or laughed at due to his condition. I thought Joaquin Phoenix did an amazing job of portraying how Joker is meant to be, and he really made me feel empathetic for Arthur Fleck. The way he passionately danced around as the joker, the way you could see the pain in his eyes, and the way he carried himself just all seemed so perfect and fitting. Phoenix even ended up winning the best actor award at the Oscars in February 2020, which further exemplifies his amazing ability to act. Moving on: the audience felt pain for the joker and understood his perspective in this film more than any other DC movie. Does this mean all of Arthur’s horrible actions in the movie were justified? No, I don’t Believe that Todd Phillips was justifying murderous acts or glorifying violence and mental illness with this movie. The movie does though shed some light on problems the mentally ill may have, and lets people know that mental illness is real and people struggle with it every day. I’m glad the movie shows how cruel and wretched people in society can be, so that maybe viewers will watch the movie and begin to condemn those who are vile, and maybe those who are vile would change their ways.
Moving on, the music that was used in the movie was very fitting, typically a slower string based instrument, playing deep and sad music during the Joker’s hard times. There were also times when old music from the 30s, 40s, 60s, and so on would play in the background, usually during a time where Joker was being himself and not much bad was happening. Besides just music setting the scene, the background audio helped create the producers desired environment as well. As the audience hears car horns, people yelling in the street, car engines, sirens, and the intense radio broadcasts, it is evident that Arkham City is a busy place with pressing issues, and it needs order. The cinematography in the movie was very appropriate as well, and helped illustrate Joker’s dark themes. The variety of camera angles, lighting, and framing kept me excited and attentive throughout the entire movie. There wasn’t a lot of sunlight in the movie, as the majority of the movie took place at night or indoors. I noticed a recurrence of flickering lights as well, inside the train and in some buildings too. This darker environment alongside a low saturation helped me feel the Jokers sadness, and loneliness at certain scenes in the movie. There are some bright scenes with high saturation to represent his happiness and freedom too, like when he famously waltzes down the staircase on his way to the Murray show, or in the final scene when he is running away in the Insane Asylum. Another powerful technique used in the film was capturing the emotion and mood of the scene by close ups of actors faces. There were a lot of pauses in dialogue, or silent moments just focusing in on Joaquin Phoenix’s face. It was a movie that showed how actions and expressions can sometimes tell a better story than words could.
Overall, the film is an eye-opener for those who may not understand mental illnesses, and for those who disregard the less fortunate in life. It shows that the way you treat people in society actually matters, and how serious it can affect a person who’s going through a lot. The film portrayed our protagonist so well through effective audio and video, and Joaquin Phoenix’s moving performance was astounding as well. The film was definitely worth seeing for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the Joker’s tragic origins from a perspective we haven’t seen.