Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
“I just hope my death makes more sense than my life.”
Weltschmerz. Despair. Grief. Desperation. Those are the keywords that came to mind after watching this movie. If you are a superhero film fan and you expect heroic confrontations between this crazy clown and our bats-related superhero in a tight latex suit, you can safely turn around and skip this film. The interpretation of “The Joker” by Jack Nicholson was masterful. He played a mean Joker who was obsessed with money and power. But without a doubt, Heath Ledger’s interpretation is the most legendary. He played Joker’s insanity and psychopathic behaviour in an unparalleled way. An outstanding acting performance. What Joaquin Phoenix does in this film, however, is breathtaking and brilliant at the same time. After “You were never really here” I thought Phoenix belonged to the leading group of excellent actors. After “Joker“, for me anyway, he’s already the front-runner in that group.
I am not easily impressed by a movie. But “Joker” made an immense impression on me. And not because of the violence. By the way, I found the reports of people leaving the cinema prematurely, because it became too intense, grossly exaggerated. Every average action movie today is filled with aggressive scenes full of senseless violence. I was more overwhelmed by a constant uncomfortable feeling while watching this film. A feeling of pity and vicarious shame. For Arthur Fleck, as well as for the fellow citizens he meets in his daily life. For me, the saddest scene was the stand-up comedy moment. You know Arthur’s performance will be completely ridiculous and that his would-be funny performance will backfire in his face. The most significant scene was the one with the over-concerned mother in the subway who shouts at Arthur and tells him to stop intimidating her child. After his hysterical laughing, she turns her back on him anxiously. Pitiful. Confronting. Enough incentive to derail the psyche of this disturbed soul.
Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal. Not only is he extremely psychologically vulnerable. Also physically he looks emaciated and fragile. Little more than skin and bone. It looked as if his rib cage would burst out of his body. And his shoulder blades could be ripping through his skin at any time. Skin like yellow parchment full of cracks. Just like his antidepressants ravaged his morbid mind. Antidepressants are needed to control his uncontrollable laughter and help him through his measly existence. A hopeless life without understanding and loving feelings. Except toward his mother (Frances Conroy). An old woman sits all day in her seat. Demented. Fading away. With a daily routine of writing letters to Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), father of Bruce Wayne and future mayor of Gotham, asking if he could help them.
“Joker” is not a relaxing film. It’s depressing to see how such an individual is harassed and spit out by society. Not a day goes by without being scorned, physically abused, or treated as a leprosy patient. This downward spiral he’s getting into creates an explosive moment in which he takes matters into his own hands, resulting in a disastrous outcome. The discharge that follows afterward, has been portrayed both frighteningly and magically. That unreal and silly dance in the public toilet is probably a moment of realization that his life is at a tipping point. And without realizing it, he becomes the symbolic force behind a movement against injustices in society. A sort of evil, insane Katniss Everdeen for the outcasts. And although many don’t like to hear this, the number of similarities with our current society is alarmingly high.
Yes, “Joker” is a sort of origin story of Batman’s most infamous archenemy. On the other hand, this could be the portrait of so many others as well. An everyday person struggles with their personality and falls through the cracks and out of the system at all levels. Individuals who are often driven into a corner cultivate a destructive hatred toward everything and everyone. And then there’s a day their fuse blows and they resort to actions that aren’t tolerated by modern society. Not that I approve of these actions but I think it’s a kind of logical consequence. “Joker” is not part of a superhero universe. This film is more realistic than any psycho-dramatic film. A film that shows how an underdog grows into a monstrous tormentor who preaches chaos and destruction. A numb, sick mind that doesn’t care. The harder you pound him, the louder his laugh. The movie “Joker” helped me understand who that figure is and where he comes from. For me the most impressive film out of the superheroes potpourri that we’ve seen these few last years. And for my part, a well-deserved Oscar statuette for Joaquin Phoenix. He’ll certainly be laughing about it uncontrollably the evening of the award ceremony.