No Joking Matter

A Review of “The Joker”

Jacob Williams

With controversy and grim desperation in tow Director Tom Phillips (“The Hangover Series,” “A Star is Born,” and even a Borat movie to name a few) has stepped up to the DC Movies plate with “The Joker.” Seemingly looking to break the companies streak of past dark, dreary, and failed projects, Phillips put all of the morbidity and bleak social commentary he could into this film. And as an origin story for a rare origin-less comic book character, Phillips and Co-Writer Scott Silver have found a way to create a unique and creative tale to explain a character with a 70+ year history.

“The Joker” opens by showing us a Gotham so similar to a modern-day metropolis that I forgot several times in the beginning that we weren’t being shown an artistic drama set in New York or Chicago and that the entire setting was indeed fictional. And as this Gotham is undergoing a catastrophic trash strike as well as all of the violent crime we have come to expect, we the audience are focused on a man named Arthur Fleck, played masterfully by Joaquin Phoenix.

Fleck is a lower-class man living with his mother and working as a party clown. An odd guy for sure, with his own share of peculiarities, but still a man you can imagine living in any major city in America right next door to you. The kind of guy you would never feel super comfortable being alone with but would always feel sorry for whenever you saw him getting picked on.

This relatability to Fleck’s strangeness and everything that follows it, is where the true beauty of “The Joker “shines.  Because as we are slowly getting to know Fleck more and more: as we are being shown how he cares for his mother, how he loves the work he does, and even what dreams he has. We are also being show a world that couldn’t care less for a man like him. Or at least a world that seems that way through the vicious citizens and ruthless employers that Fleck has the misfortune of provoking. Since we are fully locked into Fleck’s perspective, it becomes impossible to not feel for this man, even as he drifts darker and darker into his own fantasies.

Then this Othello-esque tale of tragedy is doubled down by even further themes of poverty, mental health, and political corruption. Not only are we shown the rampant crime that Gotham is famous for, but we also get an intimate look at what this kind of world is for someone like Fleck. Fleck also has his own personal battles with mental illness that we are sitting front row and center for. We are agonizingly aware of every psychotic thought Fleck has and every time he refuses treatment, seeing where this dangerous path will lead us. Then with a rich socialite running for office off the idea that only he can fix the poor man’s troubles.

Our own world starts to dip painfully into the movie.

Though a masterpiece of psychological and philosophical discussion: discussing what a rough world can really do to a person, what the governments role is to help, and what can happen when they don’t. This film is definitely not a piece of entertainment. We as viewers are shoved into Joker’s head through this film and there is no way to make that stay enjoyable while keeping your sanity in tow.

Though I would highly recommend this film for the above 5 paragraphs of reasons, I do have a warning. If you decide to go see this amazing piece of cinema, don’t go alone. Go with someone you can talk to afterwards. Someone you trust, someone who’s honest, and someone who you might even disagree with. Go prepared to be uncomfortable and scared. Go aware that you are about to see a movie. Take nothing too seriously and always remember, smile.