Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy . USA. 2h 2m
Unlike a lot of action films that are based on comic characters. Phillips takes a totally different stance on recreating his solemn and realistic Joker in a studious drama focused on a downtrodden clown on the verge of his magnum opus. Last year we had a solemn Suspiria (2018) and now we have a courtly Super Villain, not just because everyone really loved Suicide Squad (2016) but a handful of grown ups wanted something more tangible and .. grown up!?
Generally the origin of the Joker is common knowledge, it’s been revisited many time in various graphic novels and comic series of the the years, but this is the first of a new series of DC comic remakes based in a more plausible world, and this chilling story for Arthur Fleck is outstanding, not only for the new birth of the worlds most favourite bad guy but it stands as a benchmark of Joaquin Phoenix as a truly versatile actor whose masterful adoption of characters that purposely don’t gel with audiences, only make them more lovable. It’s pretty easy to see this as the DC version of You Were Never Really Here (2017) but maybe in reverse but it’s just a tad darker and outlandish with crazier people involved. But in all honesty I wouldn’t want to blend the two films as they stand alone in their own glorious and unforgettable rights.
Arthur Fleck is the ultimate easy target, a man with a strange mental condition where he laughs randomly, physically he’s weak and he usually in costume and in the wrong place at the wrong time. In his heart he does just wants to make people laugh, but in Gotham City there’s nothing to laugh about. Crime is on the rise, the city needs a new mayor and they are just about to cut the health budget. If this is a depiction of the current social climate then it’s well timed as Mental Health awareness is at an all high.
While spending his time putting on his smile he works as a clown for hire, his real desire is to make it big, but the fragile man is an easy target for kids and thugs, but at every turn no matter what he does he ends up further into the gutter, with more bruises both mentally and physically. His only respite is spending quality time with his mother. His only escape is watching their favourite TV together, a show hosted by Murray Franklin/ (De Niro) an actor who played a similar ruthless lost man in Taxi Driver (1976). But while we know nothing about the iconic Taxi Driver, we are given enough information about Arthur to make our assumptions on weather he’s a case of Nature or Nurture and some of the connections and twists between him and a young Bruce Wayne is nail biting.
On a low after losing his job Arthur beings to pursue a career as a stand up and digs into his childhood after a strange letter arrives for his mother, this combination of events really push the mild mannered weirdo into the depths of madness that only the Joker can really relish and revel in. The humiliation and despair becomes too much and he discovers that his talent is not for comedy but random violence.
Put on a happy face
Todd Phillips put a lot of imagery and mysticism in the movie, all clocks show 11:11 on them, the idea that time is standing still while Arthur imagines everything, is this a bible verse, is history repeating? There’s a lot of ideas running under the surface of this play imagining the birth of the ultimate villain, some aspects work and others fall a little short, but with Phillips still playing with the idea that this is only a chapter in revealing who the real Joker is, might mean a lot of good work is going to waste. There are so many internal dramas that ultimately lead to a story we can all begin to see forming that need to be fully realised.
Despite the massive fanboy appreciation of the movie, it’s well justified, I saw so many healed tattoos of the Joker before seeing the movie on the big screen, and it takes a while to heal a tattoo so people were running and not walking for these appointments. But if this is the new style of DC movies then I think I can finally get into something that isn’t a brightly coloured playful “rollerc oaster” and this is something I fully appreciate, characters can be dug into and understood instead of being wowed with tech and complicated graphics. I think the world of modern cinema is so vast that it can incorporate the two styles.
It’s insightful to see Arthur recreate himself as the Joker and for the Joker to recreate himself as a new wave of protest, on and off screen. Highlighting the need for real mental health care and takes on an on screen anti capitalist and anti rich movement, but the joker own criminal career is more than this, as a product of Gotham cities darkside who returns as a proud son to purposely disappoint his creators.