Send In The Clowns
(This is a spoiler-FREE review)
Joker is the most different and unique movie I have seen in the past decade. Not only is it an excellent character study of a man driven by society’s disregard to commit heinous acts, it also invites viewers to ask deep questions about its narrative and the implications it has on society. This is all could not work without the magnificent performance by Joaquin Phoenix who disappears into a haunting and realistic portrayal of the character. This is an instant classic and a surprising masterpiece that lingers with you after you have watched it and allows a myriad of questions that will leave people debating for years to come.
The film may be called Joker but this is the story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed and sick man who has been beaten up and forgotten by society. He tries to be a stand up comedian, gets beat up by random people, and suffers with his own insecurities in a broken world that overlooks people like him. As he continues to unravel and descend into madness, the movie turns into something else entirely that is equally disturbing yet riveting in its own delight. It is important to note that this is not a story about the Joker, this is a story of how someone becomes the Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix dominates the screen in an Oscar worthy performance, hauntingly portraying a man suffering with mental illness and making it impossible to not be invested while he’s on screen. This is his movie, and he owns every scene making you feel uncomfortable yet sympathetic towards him. He is portraying a man who is lonely, lost, confused, and abandoned by the society he was raised in which demands a heavy emotional toll that Phoenix rises to. It is also scarily realistic to people suffering from different forms of mental illness today.
It’s the simple nuances that stand out in his performance, such as when someone is berating him and he slowly goes from an expression of shock to a sinister smile as the camera lingers on him. His performance is so intricate from the way he moves, to the expressions on his face, to his laugh, to the way he holds a cigarette or how he shakes his legs when he is feeling anxious.It is a hauntingly accurate portrayal of mental illness that will make you empathize with those suffering.
This is not a comic book movie, this is a character study of a man suffering with mental illness. It just so happens that he resembles an iconic Batman villain. The movie is a deep dive into how one normal man could realistically become someone as insane as the Joker. There is never one defining instance that makes Arthur snap and start murdering people, but rather a deep evolution built by repeated bad moments in his life. Where Arthur starts at the beginning of the film is shockingly dissimilar yet believable from who he is at the end of the film. This is more about the journey to becoming the Joker than him embodying the persona and carrying out random violence.
The movie is more disturbing and unsettling than it is violent. Violence is not glorified or romanticized but rather portrayed as horrible and unsettling. When Arthur commits acts of violence, you are left stunned and horrified rather than feeling like you’re rooting for the bad guy. The movie asks you to empathize and understand Arthur, but it never wants you to condone his actions or even forgive him for what he’s done. I didn’t find myself rooting for him to get revenge or to kill those around him, in fact the movie put me in a perspective where I didn’t want Arthur to become the Joker. I did not want to see this guy snap, given how much I grew to empathize with his perspective of the world.
You can certainly watch the movie for what it is and see it as a straightforward narrative, but with the movie being portrayed from the perspective of Arthur, the film’s narrative can often be ambiguous and trandescent which is something I hadn’t experienced before. The movie explores whether we can trust The Joker as our narrator and invites us into the disillusion of his perception. Is something he views as bad actually bad? Are the events being told to him true or are we seeing a misinterpretation by him? These are just a taste of the level of interpretation this movie leaves for the audience which makes it ripe for discussion and all the more interesting in its own regard. It begs for multiple viewings and encourages multiple interpretations and makes it that no opinion can be discredited on what actually happened.
The story is also entirely unpredictable leading to some of the best scenes I have seen in the past decade of movies. You don’t know when Arthur is going to snap and what he will he do when he does. The movie relishes in letting you feel moments of tension with this subversion that enthralls you in a bone chilling experience. The film sets up certain events to happen leading you to predict how things may transpire, but the Joker is so incalculable that things never happen the way you may think. It is this unhinged mindset of Arthur that makes the film so riveting and tense,
The movie may be a period piece set in the 70’s or 80’s era, but it brings up a lot of relevant topics that are pertinent to today’s culture. Gotham City has a serious social divide between the rich and the poor, and it is this divide that incites chaos among its citizens. Some things are eerily similar to what we are dealing with today, adding a new level of thinking and realization that the movie could have otherwise skipped over. It also brings into discussion mental illness and criminals similar to the Joker and invites us to ponder what role we play in the monsters we create.
Joker has a lot to say in its 2 hour runtime, but it masterfully rises to the occasion and leaves a lot to debate for years to come. A film that produces discussion not only about the content of the film, but the real life implications it is conveying is one that needs to be commended and seen more often in our media. If you are hoping for a violent fest in which the Joker lets loose similar to Heath Ledger, then I suggest you go watch the The Dark Knight. But if you want to think critically and see an in depth character study of how someone could become a person like the Joker, then this is the masterpiece that you need to see immediately.
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