“Joker” is a monumental achievement in film, as it showcases a fascinating exploration of a man and society that is fractured beyond repair.
A standalone movie built separately from the larger cinematic universe, the film is free to develop its world, without worrying about the impact it may have on other films. Director Todd Phillips uses the film to communicate a broader social commentary, highlighting the story of a man that is disregarded by all of society. What follows is nothing short of a masterpiece that is sure to turn off many audiences with its disturbing nature.
The film presents an extensive examination of one of pop culture’s most famous villains, who starts as wannabe comedian Arthur Fleck. Arthur is a man who has been written off by the world, as he struggles to find meaning and purpose in his life. Through a series of drastic circumstances, Fleck is inconceivably beaten physically and emotionally, as he finds comfort transforming into the anarchic criminal Joker.
The film truly wouldn’t work if it weren’t for Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative performance as the title character. Phoenix envelops himself in the role both mentally and physically, to create a character that is battered down by the world around him. From Fleck’s frail and deformed body to his sickening and fractious laugh, this is a character that is longing for just one good day that he knows will never come. The film follows Fleck through his plunge into madness, as the film doesn’t justify his actions but rather attempts to make sense of them. It’s a remarkable accomplishment from both Phillips and Phoenix that the audience is so invested in studying Fleck long before he transforms into the “Clown Prince of Crime.”
And what makes Fleck’s situation worse is not only is he torn apart on the inside, but also he is bruised by a broken world. Phillips’ decision to set his film in the 1980s is clearly made to reflect Gotham City as a grimy and murky version of New York City. This creates an environment that is on the brink of collapse, with a clear separation between the privileged and less-fortunate. It’s a society that is made to be a reflection of our own, as Fleck is meant to be the product of an unrelenting civilization. The film is blunt in its messages, as it pushes the fine line of security to warn of what could happen in a “world gone mad.” This will no doubt spark more debate about the romanticizing of violence, as a person’s perception of the film is dependent on their views going in.
All of this culminates into a film that is painful and troublesome to watch, as audiences are forced to watch Fleck pushed beyond sanity into madness. The film inflicts a sickening feeling, something that will challenge even the strongest-willed audiences. This is a result of the movie’s relentless tension, a remarkable feeling that doesn’t allow audiences to breathe until the very last credit. The movie is at times inexorably disturbing, as it creates a true sense of horror in it seeming all too real. It’s truly exceptional that the film does not glorify Fleck’s transition into The Joker, as the movie will have audiences begging for Fleck to stop, despite knowing where he ends up.
“Joker” is not only a momentous achievement for comic book movies, but it’s also a noteworthy accomplishment for film in general. It’s genuinely unprecedented what this movie can achieve and express, despite not being for everyone. Although many audiences will avoid it entirely believing they cannot handle the subject matter, the movie is one that needs to be seen by those who feel confident in their ability to handle it. But what is presented is nothing short of a masterpiece. This is a movie that is intended to spark immense conversation and debate with its daring themes, as it offers a monumental social commentary that is more prevalent than ever.