“I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it’s a comedy.” Joker is a 2019 psychological drama film directed by Todd Phillips, the mind behind The Hangover and A Star is Born. Easily dismissed as a conventional superhero film, Joker is, simply put, anything but that. I was in absolute awe during my viewing of the film, and now it stands out as one of my favorite films of the year. This is a must-see film in my books.
Joker is more aptly described as a psychological study rather than your average superhero film. This is why Joker is a refreshing new release among many blockbuster films as of late, particularly Avengers: Endgame, a formulaic, high-budget and mainstream film destined for box-office success. This trend tends to hint at the future of Hollywood. With exceptions, film ideas that steer away from tried-and-tested methods often land on the chopping block. Despite this risk, Todd Phillips and company seem to have taken a more daring approach to Joker, a marvellous depiction of a character’s transformation into villainy. Stripped from the glitz and glamour of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and perfectly choreographed, epic action scenes, it focuses entirely on the character development of Arthur Fleck to Joker. It boasts an almost seamless transition from a kind-hearted mama’s boy just trying to live a happy life into a despicable villain- a menace to society.
The most commendable part of the film is Joaquin Phoenix’s outstanding performance as the titular character. Having to play a notoriously well-loved comic book villain equals very big shoes to fill. The late Heath Ledger is a fan favorite in terms of live-action Joker film adaptations. Fortunately for Joker, many fans appear to have much praise for Phoenix’s unique rendition of Joker as well. I personally found that Phoenix perfectly captured the essence of Joker and put his own spin on it, while honoring the Jokers of the past. Phoenix certainly did his homework on how mental illness affects the brain. Arthur Fleck suffers with severe mental illness and a neurological condition, Pseudobulbar Affect, which involuntarily produces his infamous laugh. Phoenix does a stellar job at getting into character, contorting his face and body to fit the Joker persona to a T.
The dark and twisted nature of Joker is an element of the film that polarizes viewers, and separates the film’s super-fans from critics. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, and many have complaints about the portrayal of its subject matter. It plays with many societal issues, carefully packaged in the fictional city of Gotham. Joker deviates so heavily from both the Marvel and DC cinematic universe, yet remains so vitally important with its message. Director Todd Phillips has mentioned how he drew inspiration for the setting from his childhood, having been raised in 1970s New York City. Unsurprisingly, Gotham has striking parallels to New York City, from the high crime rate, unemployment and grime. Exploring issues like the stigma of mental illness and class divide, relatively unexplored at the time, Joker proves to be more than a Friday night movie.
In all, Joker subverts all classic superhero film tropes and surpasses all expectations. With its visceral storytelling and a phenomenal performance by Joaquin Phoenix, you’re in for a treat. Just don’t go in expecting an light-hearted superhero flick, because Joker is more of a Taxi Driver or King of Comedy experience than an Avengers: Endgame one, for sure.