Joker- A Review

Posted: 11/11/2019 in Uncategorized

This was a tremendous, yet deeply unsettling film. At points, the grit and grime of the presentation of Gotham in the 80s was almost too much. The evolution of Joachin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck to the Joker however was captivating. Ultimately though, was this a good film? My review follows below.

The first half hour of this film had me questioning what exactly I was watching. This isn’t a bad thing. I feared initially that Joker would be provocative for the sake of being provocative. There were various reviews that posited that this film would be a clarion call out to incels and other fringe groups to justify future possibly violent actions. This was not the case in my opinion. To paraphrase Phoenix’s own words in an interview, “this is a movie and most people understand good and evil, right and wrong”. What made me hesitate to see it initially was the badmouthing by Marc Maron (Gene Ufland) who pushed that this is not a superhero movie before deriding such a genre. It is indeed not a super hero genre film. It in fact probably owes a greater debt to such films as “The King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver” than any other work. This being said, Joker is its own animal and one with a very gripping narrative.

Arthur Fleck (Joachin Phoenix)  is a ruin of a human being. He is sympathetic, which in and of itself is problematic when one considers who and what he becomes. He is dismissed by society, his social worker and even his peers as he ekes out a living as a clown. That his story is a tragedy is incontestable. The abuse he suffers in his day to day is wretched. We meet Arthur as he shares his narrative and when we witness a group of youths stealing a sign as he works a curb for a company going out of business, symbolic in and of itself of the world which surrounds him, the viewer feels outrage as they later give him a beat down. Any sympathy offered afterward is false, particularly among his peer group. Randall (Glen Fleshler) offers Arthur a gun to protect himself. Knowing his own fragile state, Fleck nonetheless accepts the weapon which later leads to further undoing on his part.

His relationship with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy) is no less discouraging. She is sickly, focused on reaching out to her former employer Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) for reasons all her own. Arthur’s day to day is dismal and even when he tries to be happy, it is all the more sad. Phoenix absolutely claims this role as his own. While Heath Ledger’s Joker is still the definitive Joker in the DC universe in my estimation; Phoenix makes a powerful, worthy attempt, creating his own indelible stamp on the clown prince of crime. The film going out of its way to distance itself from the source material is by times irritating, considering the presence of the Waynes, but still as a gritty indictment of the obvious disconnect between wealthy and poor, this film serves as a powerful social cautionary tale. A garbage strike causes a rise in public unrest and this version of Thomas Wayne adds fuel to the fire deeming the poor and disenfranchised as “clowns”. The have and have nots aspect plays tightly throughout the film.

Arthur’s rise as Joker begins strangely with a benevolent act on a subway. Three wealthy, intoxicated young men accost a young woman, pushing her to “be nice” to them, a scene which plays all too often in the real world. There is only one way this scenario could have played out if not for Arthur’s manic laughing fit which draws the trio’s attention. What happens next is a study in cause and effect. Arthur’s actions at onset are somewhat justifiable. His later ‘completing’ his task begins his ascension into villainy. That he still remains empathetic is testament to Phoenix’s performance.

Fleck’s connection with a neighbor, Sophie (Zazie Beatz) begins awkwardly then seems to progress in a seemingly earned win for Arthur. She makes a joke when she first meets him and he awkwardly responds. Later interactions feature her attending his comedy club performance, which understandably bombs. A moment in which she accompanies him to his mother’s bedside , after she has a stroke, is quite touching and again…earned.

Joker is a noir film however and as with all noir films, there is a detective story at its core. Arthur’s learning the truth about his parentage and upbringing gives him answers he most likely did not need. As the mystery unravels, so do his hopes and aspirations. His wins lessen and a nihilistic journey is undertaken including a troubling segment featuring Arthur and a refrigerator.

Arthur’s focus on Murray Franklin (Robert Deniro), a late night talk show host/comedian is the alpha at the film’s beginning and has tracings throughout the film. A fantasy sequence featuring Arthur and Murray is genuinely sad and shows the inherent sorrow framing Arthur’s life. An appearance, in reality, on Franklin’s show becomes the omega and a point of ascendance for Arthur has he officially takes the name “Joker”.

Fleck’s discourse on punishing ‘bad people’ borders on making him an anti hero. Arthur becoming a catalyst for social upheaval is where the film falters a bit, but as we hurtle our way through the struggle that is Arthur’s we learn that his first person narrative is not necessarily reliable. Arthur’s evading the police and setting them up for a violent interaction is actually very much vintage Joker strategy and reminds the viewer of what he is on the road to becoming. A near end scene plays out like a partner chapter to “Dark Knight” before returning to the reality of Fleck’s current situation. His proclaiming “you wouldn’t get it” as he laughs at a private joke while speaking with a counselor is followed by the mania that closes the film.

This one will stick with you. Both a triumph and tragedy, Joker over time will be one for the ages and if this film does not get Joachin Phoenix his Oscar, no film ever will. Joker overall is simply outstanding and well worth your time. It transcends genres and will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

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