By: Ryan Farrell, Staff Writer
For the first time, DC releases a film solely focused on the infamous comic book villain Joker, directed by Todd Philips. Although the film’s content has stirred controversy regarding its subject matter, it has been met with critical and financial success nonetheless. Joaquin Phoenix’s dominating performance is disturbingly profound and portrays the iconic character in a unique light.
Joker portrays an origin story that is independent of its comic counterpart. Gotham City in the 1980s is riddled with poverty, protest and crime. Aspiring comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a broken man that struggles both mentally and financially. These hardships have caused most of society to reject him. After a lengthy downward spiral of crime and betrayal, his villainous alter ego is born.
Phoenix’s talents allow him to disappear into the role. A particularly powerful aspect of his performance is his ability to express multiple emotions at once. A trait of the character is that a previous brain injury causes Fleck to laugh uncontrollably when he’s nervous, landing him in a variety of situations. It’s incredibly unique to see an actor portray multiple emotions, especially when trying to mirror a mental disability. The Joker is further explored through a variety of dark transformations, which underscore Phoenix’s range as an actor.
Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is incredibly different from past cinematic interpretations. Since the villain stems from the Batman comics, the storylines usually focus on the two facing off. However, it’s difficult to picture Phoenix in that position since he can barely complete everyday tasks. Because he starts in this state, it makes his overall transformation more impactful.
Another memorable performance came from Robert DeNiro as television celebrity Murray Franklin. Similarly to Phoenix, DeNiro also disappears into his character. Franklin hosts a late-night comedy show and functions as Arthur Fleck’s central inspiration. Although DeNiro’s role is only briefly featured, it’s unique to see this actor take on such a part.
The story itself is placed in a meek version of Gotham City; its politics are scattered throughout the film and are directly linked to the main character. The most prevalent social issue is the divide between the rich and the poor; the rich enjoy luxuries while the poor are left to fend for themselves. Public workers are on strike, which causes the city to deteriorate. Joker places Fleck in immense poverty, subjecting him to the worst of what society has to offer.
Todd Philips’ direction allowed the film to take many creative liberties. For example, Joker uses a dark ambient score and features a soundtrack with famous singers such as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Their songs are mainly used to express juxtaposition and insanity and it’s incredibly effective. This specific choice constantly reminds the viewer that the story is grounded in the past.
Another unique detail that differentiates Joker from the superhero genre is that the scale of the story is small. In general, superhero films usually center around a world-altering event; the scale of the event reflects the genre’s extravagant nature. The story in Joker is grounded in Gotham City and although the city experiences chaos, it never reaches a catastrophic level. The character study of Fleck is the film’s focus so it doesn’t use grand events to distract the viewer.
Joker is currently showing in theatres.