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Film Review: Joker

Joker is a modern-day Taxi Driver, as we watch a man's life spiral downwards

First off, let me say, I was nervous about this movie. Joker is the most iconic Batman villain and no one really wants to nail down an origin story for him. Part of his intrigue is his ever-morphing origin, like in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s portrayal would give multiple stories for how he got his scars. Joker is obviously an origin story, there’s no denying that.  

The movie follows Arthur Fleck, a clown and a would-be-comedian, just trying to get by in Gotham. Bit by bit his life falls apart, leading him to become the Joker. The movie is a modern-day Taxi Driver, as we watch a man’s life spiral downwards.

Joaquin Phoenix is startlingly perfect for the role. His acting is what makes the film work as something more than an interesting concept. He truly embodies the character of Arthur Fleck, reportedly losing 52 pounds for the role. In an interview with Premiere magazine, Phoenix says after getting the role, he wanted the director’s input on the laugh, and it took Phoenix 30 minutes to laugh in front of the director. Phoenix also worked with a choreographer to create Fleck’s peculiar brand of dancing. All of this shows how much thought was put into the details of the character and all of these pieces fit together to make a unique take on the Joker.

There have been many different directions that the character of Joker has taken: a goon, a psychopath, a tortured soul. There have been both portrayals of him being related and not related to Batman. However, he has always been an unusual character; the degree that he is provocative or compelling is dependent on who is portraying the character. Phoenix’s interpretation focuses on how society pushes Arthur into becoming the Joker.

Having this movie not connected to the rest of the DC universe makes it stronger. It did not need to tie into five other movies or shoehorn in references; it doesn’t need that to work. It stands apart from the superhero film genre that we are used to seeing. It’s not the first movie to focus on the villain, but it’s not really a deconstruction of the superhero mythos. It’s just something that feels new.

This movie is rated R for a reason; it is violent, dark, and, at times, hard to watch. When Arthur is forced to protect himself from drunken businessmen he takes it too far, killing two in self-defense and hunting the last one. Although the audience can sympathize with Arthur at points, his execution of the final businessman is presented as rash, which is shown through the quick pacing and camera movements. I don’t think it glorifies gun violence; instead, the scenes with violence were presented as horrifying. 

The film is exactly as brutal as you think an R-rated Joker would be, but the portrayal of the character is unexpected and, no doubt, will rank highly on any list of Joker interpretations.

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