By Nolan P. Smith
It has been one of the most widely criticized films even before it hit the theaters, but the time has finally come. DC’s most iconic villain has received his own movie, but this isn’t your comic book action-packed blockbuster type of film. So, what exactly is The Joker?
Directed by Todd Phillips, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix and takes place in the 1980s, at a very delicate time in Gotham. Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is running for Mayor in hopes of saving the city; the city is getting more dangerous by the day. Also, Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) life has been going downhill. The clown performer takes care of his ailing mother, all while trying to break into the stand-up comedy scene. We see he had something big happen that led him to be in an institution, and now being on a multitude of meds. But when budget cuts take away his social worker and the medications that come with it, Arthur takes a plunge for the worse.
The descent of Arthur Fleck is the story here, and it is shown masterfully. A quiet, shy man that is trying his best to be a good son, and a happy person, goes deeper and deeper into something he can’t come back from. Phoenix’s portrayal of Fleck, and eventually, the Joker, is outstanding. The mental issue aspect of the film is eerily on point and feels far too close to reality at times, which makes for some uncomfortable cinema. We see what creates the man known as The Joker, and it’s a pressure cooker of a lifetime of mistreatment, abuse, lies, and more. No vat of chemicals here, not at all. This is a Joker that goes off the rails mentally, causing a movement in the process.
It all builds to an iconic scene plucked straight out of the comics, as the Joker is a guest on the Murray Franklin Show, a man he has idolized and looked up to. Franklin (Robert De Niro) hosts the late-night show, and when he brings the Joker on as a guest, Arthur has fully transformed into a different man since the start of the film. The movie has so many shocking moments, so many tense parts and striking imagery; it is one of the best films I have seen this year. Seeing Fleck descending the stairs in full Joker mode encapsulates the descent of Fleck to Joker perfectly; it’s a scene I will always remember. But be warned, it is incredibly dark. Of course, that goes with the nature of the character, but when the movie ended, and the credits hit, everything felt incredibly dark. This is coming from someone who loves dark stories and films. Not saying it was dark in the wrong way, but it stays with you long after the credits roll.
It’s a touchy subject- mental health, and the way society treats those affected. Especially in the 1980s, during a far less educated time when it comes to matters of the mind. Some will say this film encourages violence from those being mistreated. But I think it shows us that we don’t know what others are going through, and maybe we should be kinder to those around us. Arthur Fleck had a domino effect of events and mistreatment before he completely lost it, so perhaps being kinder to the world is an excellent place to start. Joker is one of my favorite films of 2019, and Phoenix’s portrayal of the character ranks up there with Heath Ledger’s performance. Not for children, but an excellent representation of the clown prince of crime.
Rating: 10 out of 10.
Nolan P. Smith is the Editor and Co-Founder of Pastrami Nation. Being a reporter for the past ten years, he has worked for a variety of media outlets, from newsprint to the ever-evolving internet platform. Residing in Victorville, CA, writing has always been a significant aspect of his life. You can usually find him at comic book conventions, looking for more amazing books to dive into, or at the gym at odd times of the night. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter @nolanpsmith, and Instagram @kakooee.