The latest offering from the DC comic universe, Joker, is a fast paced, high violence portrayal of the evolution of a man treated horribly by both the past and present, the man who would become Batman’s arch-nemesis. The movie opens on Arthur Fleck/Joker (played by Joaquin Phoenix) painting the iconic facepaint on himself in a mirror. The radio blares about a garbage strike causing rubbish to pile up everywhere. He’s working in a clowns for hire place, where they do random jobs around town, including cheering up sick kids or advertising a pizza place. It’s a variant, yet interesting origin story for where he got the makeup.
He’s not treated well, at work, in the streets, or even at home where he lives with his ailing mother. The entire feel of the movie is a bizarre mix of 50’s music, 70’s clothing style and mobile phones, and reminds one strongly of the stylistic approach of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver. Only one character smokes, and it seems acceptable, no matter the location, including in hospital. It’s an interesting mix of surroundings and experiences, which is rife with dystopian energies as the poor are severely separated from the rich.
There are some interesting connections to current events and trends in the media. This is especially brought home when the Joker says “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there [urban streets]?” to his social worker. She has encouraged that Arthur keep a journal of his negative thoughts, and as a way to voice inner emotions. He has also used it to write jokes for his future as a comedian, as he has only ever wanted to make people happy. The most telling quote from the journal is “I just hope my death makes more cents [sic] than my life”. The journal is an important narrative into his mind and appears several times throughout the film.
Joaquin Phoenix takes command of the screen from the first moment. He plays a very realistic Joker, one very different from the last incarnation in Suicide Squad. It’s a new take on an old story. Phoenix’s performance is strongly informed by Heath Ledger‘s interpretation of the character, but Phoenix has definitely made it his own.
It’s interesting that the character in the movie is around 30 years old, played by Phoenix who is 44. This would work well if he were to play the Joker again once the Bruce Wayne of his universe has grown up to become Batman.
Joker does meet Bruce, who appears around 10 years old; the role is played by Dante Pereira-Olson who, only 2 years ago, played a younger version of Joaquin Phoenix’s character Joe in the movie You Were Never Really Here. Other cast members include the legendary Robert DeNiro as talk show host Murray Franklin, Zazie Beetz as neighbour Sophie Dumond, and Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father.
There’s more than one bombshell in the story line, which will change the way you view the Joker forever. He is painfully thin, and his body seems as tortured as his mind. His metamorphosis into the Joker is almost inevitable, considering the events that unravel over the course of the movie. While he stirs sympathy, his path is made by his choices. He is not someone to emulate or pity. It’s a gritty and raw story, and may well cause you to pause and reflect upon your own life, about today’s society, and where we are moving to.
Joker is written and directed by Todd Phillips for comes in theaters in the U.S. on October 4.