When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?

Joker ( 2019 )

  |   Oct. 5, 2019

We've seen many incarnations of Batman's nemesis, The Joker, on the big screen. He has always been a scene stealer, with Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger shining in respective film adaptations, and even Jared Leto's Joker being a high point of the otherwise dismal Suicide Squad. The question then is what can Joaquin Phoenix bring to the role, and why are we even revisiting Gotham City at all. As it turns out, Todd Philip's Joker is unlike anything we've seen before. It is an origin story which imagines The Joker not as a super villain, but as a person, and chronicles his descent into violence and anarchy.

This is a Gotham City long before it had a Batman to save it. It is falling into decay, with garbage piling up on the streets and the fabric of society breaking down little by little. It's the worst place for a man like Arthur Fleck. He's mentally ill, having recently left a psychiatric institution, and lives with his mother in a squalid flat. He works as a clown but understands too little about people to ever be funny. His awkwardness is compounded by a neurological condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably in the most inappropriate of situations. Arthur has no place in the world, and Gotham offers him no outlets for the resentment and rage building up within him. When he tries to be a standup comedian he instead becomes the butt of the joke, and retreats into a fantasy land to shield himself from the horror of his daily life. When this inevitably comes crashing down, there are dire consequences. He strikes out and murders three Wall Street bankers who harass him on the subway, which becomes the catalyst for a movement, a rising against the rich of Gotham City, who oppress and discard men like Arthur Fleck.

The most disturbing part about Joker is its message, and that's what's made it one of the most controversial movies in recent years. There is no doubt that Arthur's transformation is glorified. His meagre existence makes us feel so uncomfortable that when he finally dons his colourful suit and embraces violence, it comes as a relief. This meek, gritty lowlife is replaced by a supremely confident and deadly villain who glides and dances through the streets. In the final scenes, as he rages against the elites on live TV, we know that we've heard similar words before, but this is different. The movie is grounded in a realism that means that his proclamations aren't just empty words. His message is the only game in town. There is no opposing Dark Knight who will swoop down at the end of the movie and restore order to the chaos.

Joker is a complex movie, difficult to watch yet utterly captivating. It presents a character who will challenge its audience. It is at times magnificent, delicately crafted, with a sure hand slowly guiding the transformation. It's difficult to imagine anyone but Phoenix in the main role, and he deftly balances all of Arthur's failings to produce a character who elicits both sympathy and revulsion. Whether its celebration of violence has overstepped an invisible line is best left to the viewer to judge, but no doubt this is the kind of movie the Joker himself would have made, and been proud of.

Directed by
Todd Phillips
Joaquin Phoenix
Zazie Beetz
Robert De Niro
Brett Cullen
Frances Conroy
Runtime: 122 minutes
Joker (2019) on IMDb