SPOILERS AHEAD: The movie Joker, written and directed by Todd Phillips, is a great tale of the classic Batman villain coming into his own after a life of abuse and turmoil at the hands of Gotham and his own personal run down life. The movie follows Arthur Fleck, a party clown by day and caretaker of his mother by night. Arthur struggles with mental illness, most notable his inability to control his laughter during random parts of the day. This notable hysterical laugh is one of the first coming signs we see of Arthur develop into the great villain.
As the movie progresses, Arthur struggles to maintain his job as a party clown while also struggling to find meaning in his life from his family or co-workers. People in Gotham don’t seem to care for Arthur or just think he’s plain weird and bully him, which in turn constantly puts him down and further adds more and more negative incidents in his life than what was already there. As the movie progresses you see this character with poor mental health issues continue to get pushed down this rabbit hole of helplessness and loneliness to the point at which you start to sympathize with Arthur and the life that he’s been dealt. Here the movie sheds some strong light on the effects that mental health illnesses can take on the toll of people, clowns or not. By no means is it advocating to turn into Batman’s greatest villain but rather it sheds a broader light on the fact that society as a whole needs to put more emphasis on people who struggle with mental health issues on a day to day basis.
The pure brilliance here to portray this character was done by the great Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix nails just about every beat here as Arthur Fleck. From “crazy guy” to the insane madman as the Joker, he doesn’t miss a beat. Almost all scenes (most notably the dancing ones) really took you away from the violence in the movie and you got to feel this character evolve and feel the Joker come to life. It’s clear that in the movie Phoenix really got into rhythm here and it felt as if he WAS the Joker. The scenes in the last 20 minutes when he actually becomes Joker are masterfully crafted and these turn into a fun ending to what was great form of art.
There’s other great aspects to the film including the relationship between Arthur and his next door neighbor, his relationships with his “friends” at his daytime clown job, and even the great Robert De Niro as a New York talk show host that he adores. These all play masterfully into the story arc and character development of Arthur Fleck towards the story’s end once the climax comes.
While cons are few and far between in this movie, don’t expect this movie to be a full fledged Joker movie. This is an origin story and it is not based off any Batman or Joker comics. This movie is about Arthur Fleck and his life which spirals into the coming of age if you will of what becomes the great mastermind that is the Joker. With that being said the last 20 minutes of the film are phenomenal and when Phoenix is the Joker it’s must watch entertainment. That’s not to say that the rest of the movie isn’t, but it’s a testament to how Joaquin Phoenix mastered this art and character at the same time. Keep in mind that the movie is rated R, there is a good amount of violence in the movie. Not that this is a knock on the movie, just that this isn’t your typical run of the mill Joker that you’re used to seeing in media.
Joker is one of the must watch movies of 2019. If you haven’t done so yet, check it out and see what you think. The character of Arthur Fleck is artistically crafted from a “crazy guy” to the Joker over the movies 2 hour time span. The message is strong, the character work is brilliant, and you can’t help but wonder if there will be more in the future from Phoenix and Phillips despite teasing that this will be a stand alone film. It sure does set up for a sequel, if not this could stand alone as a DC classic masterfully created and written by Todd Phillips and performed by the great Joaquin Phoenix.
Final Score: 9/10 “Send in the Clowns.” – Frank Sinatra