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Joker: An Explosive Take on a Classic Character

Joaquin Phoenix gets into character as ”Joker." Photo courtesy of YouTube.com.

Shaun Lucas
Associate News Editor

“Joker,” directed by Todd Philips, released on October 4. The biggest compliment I can give to the film is I am disappointed that I can never view it for the first time again. “Joker” is a masterclass of suspense, atmosphere, and mixed-emotions, driving the film to greatness.

Despite being one of Detective Comics’ (DC) most widespread figures, The Joker does not uphold a consistent backstory: while Batman’s parents usually die and Superman usually arrives on Earth from Krypton in most interpretations, many versions of Joker do not coincide in regards to Joker’s origins. Many story writers have attempted origins stories, one of the most popular being Alan Moore’s comic, “The Killing Joke.”

“Joker” stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, or in the film Phoenix plays a character named Arthur Fleck. Joker having a real name coincides with this film’s more humanized version of the character, with the film putting heavy emphasis on Fleck’s mental illness and abysmal financial state. Fleck attempts to power through the stress of intercity violence, social interactions, and caring for his ill mother. Throughout the movie the Joker constantly resists the urge to turn onto a dark path. I would explain further, but with how vague the advertising was in regards to plot details, I feel it’s best to experience the film through an unknowing mind.

Relating back to my statement at the beginning of my review, I am not stating the movie is bad after multiple views: in fact, the more I reflect on the film, the more I can appreciate from a design standpoint. The movie excels in building tension, as every scene feels as if something catastrophic is within seconds due to the film’s unique and intense tone. The enjoyment comes from the feeling of upcoming dred, yet being completely unaware in what events may occur. In addition, Joker’s interactions with characters are varied, adding another level of unpredictability.

Phoenix performs this Joker phenomenally. Phoenix is known for his emotional and detail-ridden acting style, which builds this unstable, yet somehow sympathetic Joker grandly. Even when Phoenix is silent, his facial emoting, body language, and movements add character, building upon Arthur’s current situation. This level of authenticity builds complex-emotions, as I found myself rooting for a morally-reprehensible individual due to his horrible circumstances. Without Phoenix’s passionate performance, many scenes and especially quotes would fail to be nearly as impactful and memorable.

Despite its near two-hour duration, the film is never tedious. The plot is everflowing, supplying constant character-motivation to Joker. This progression is also detailed within production: similar shots of the same character will be utilized in distinctly different scenes, acting as symbolism for growth. While more patient and grounded than previous stories with the characters, the film certainly doesn’t lack in explosive and chaotic scenes, gruesome violence, vulgarity, and dark humor.

Philips’s visual and audible manipulation create an immersive and exhilarating experience. I mentioned before the constant reinstatement of shots for growth purposes. Background music is both fitting of the 1980’s-esq world while also having lyrics hinting at character’s thoughts. The somber color schemes add to the overall tone. One of my favorite techniques by Philips, however, was when he subtly shows the contrast between Fleck’s imagination and the reality around him.

Overall, I’m going to rate 2019’s “Joker” a nine out of ten. A marvelous film which will make the audience feel conflicting and harsh emotions. I would love to see more films creating grounded and mature character studies from popular figures. If you have not seen the movie yet, be prepared to be emotionally blindsided.