Wow. Straight off the bat it needs to be said, this is utterly a masterpiece. A defining, effecting and important piece of cinema. Without a doubt… this is one of the best films of the decade. However, its a hard review to write. It’s message and conception are inarguably a product of our time, much as the character in the film. In a cinematic landscape littered with flash, big, bright, universe spanning, comic book films (like the big one this year), the story of a clown gone bad is far superior. As many have observed its Taxi Driver meets Gotham City.
Beginning with a sad clown applying the classic pale paint like a ritual of depressive concealment. A single tear down his whitened cheek, Arthur Fleck violently pushes and pulls his face against its physical limits into a leering smile, only to let if recoil back to its natural downturn when he stops forcing it. A symbol of what’s to come. And so begins Joker. An immersive, uncomfortable and consuming tale of a mentally unstable person pushed too far and punched too often. The plot is relatively simple, forcing a microscopic examination of a tortured psyche.
Arthur is one of life’s tragedies, the freak. Abused, neglected, mocked and disposable. But he’s not just a loner, he is unable to engage or thrive in his societal system. The story endows him with the effective and unnerving condition that causes uncontrollable laughter at often the worst of times. His eyes weep with sadness as his laughter takes over and people recoil. He is a modern-day Quasimodo with Gotham being his Notre Dame, his ridicule and plight the same. However, Arthurs response to his world is considerably darker, taking him down a path we know leads to ultimate villainy. Phillips story is a slow burn, like the very laughter Arthur suffers from, its uncomfortable but we are hopeless to stop it.
Phillips’ direction and writing, Lawernce Sher’s cinematography and Hildur Guõnadóttir’s score are paramount in creating the ethos of the character. All marvellous. We get a twisted insight into Arthur and the world he is a product of. As Phillips frames his scenes either anxiously close or vast and widely reflective of the dancing loner. He impressively builds tension and menace toward the inevitable and unnerving admission of the person Arthur will become. The only problem with the film comes from the fact that the story tends to push really hard to be edgy and noir. It works for the most part but becomes a little too much toward the end. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the film and its themes, it never paints Joker as a hero or even anti-hero despite what some believe. For a film called Joker, it is devoid of ANY humour, which although is unfortunate as the character has been fun to watch previously, the dark truth is needed and effective here. We have the perfect origin story to a villain, his plight is sympathetic, but not his actions. Pathetic loser, righteous victim AND devastating villain.
Phoenix’s performance is phenomenal. Truly astounding to witness. He is the film and carries it with gusto. He has created an equally pitiful and petrifying version of the well-known figure and subsequently produces one of the best performances of the decade, no question. From the trembling fingers, twisted posture, pained grimace and volatile laughter- it’s a scolding show that although large, transcends enactment as one truly loses Phoenix and forgets this is just a performance. Its unpredictable and ambitious. Phoenix (and Phillips) have managed to do what many would’ve believed to be the impossible… matched (and to some – surpassed) Heath Ledger’s and Christopher Nolan’s iconic Joker. This joker seems to mix elements of classic Commedia dell’ Arte
with a modern examination of mental affliction. All the Oscars… please and thank you.
Oddly enough, this is the ultimate Batman origin story while not even featuring or mentioning the Dark Knight. It sets up a beloved story in a grotesque manner while forcibly (and sometimes obnoxiously) placing a mirror to our society. Films like this only come along so often. Enjoy it for what it is. An amazing and definitive look into one of pop cultures most revered characters. No joke, its great.
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