Based on the DC comics villain, Joker takes place in Gotham City around what appears to be the early 1980s. This stand-alone film acts as an origin story for the character The Joker. He is known as a failed stand up comedian and a mentally ill man named Arthur Fleck a. Arthur turns to crime and chaos in Gotham City after failing as a stand-up comedian, losing his job as a clown, and entertainer and frequently being attacked by the citizens of Gotham.
When this film got announced around 2016, I had no faith that this movie was going to be good. Mentioned around the time DC comic book movies and the DCEU were in a state of disarray. Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad had suffered negative critical reviews, and everyone panned the Suicide Squad’s film version of the Joker. Having a stand-alone Joker movie seemed like a significant risk and a wrong decision. As time went on, some more favorable choices that I thought were made that changed my opinion. This movie had no connection to the DCEU; this movie would have an R-Rating and a premise that loosely followed Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke.
Joker is one of the better films that was released this year that I’ve seen. The film was dark, extremely violent, and uncomfortable to watch at times. I did like it as it didn’t look or act like any Marvel, DC, or like any typical comic book movie, I’ve recently seen. It felt more real at times and had such believable chaos and events that could happen. Joaquin Phoenix was nearly perfect and scene-stealing as Arthur Fleck Becoming the Joker. The story was ok. I didn’t feel the story was anything significant, at first. Joker is a film you would have to watch again. To catch clues and visuals that you may have missed the first time. The movie stands out well in the sound, sound effects, and music and intertwines with the images to present something that I haven’t seen in any comic book movie in awhile. Joker is a great stand-alone movie, and I feel that it should end here and not have any follow up or sequels.
The following article contains spoilers from this point on.
Joker, shows us, probably what I think is the darkest, grittiest version of Gotham that I have seen in any form. It’s a time before Batman, Commissioner Gordon, or any watchdog group were patrolling and protecting Gotham. It gave me a sense of what it indeed would be like to live in the weaker section of Gotham City. It even felt like it crisscrossed the line of a slum city that someone could see in real life.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man with Pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a condition that causes him uncontrollable outbursts of laughter at any time. Everything he did was near flawless whenever he was on screen, his pacing, look, and his laughter. There were times that I couldn’t tell if he was about to laugh or cry due to his PBA. There were times I felt that Arthur wanted to cry, but laughed instead. It was a great choice, and I felt if you watched closely, you could see at the start of the movie, he is crying but laughing and towards the end, he hardly cries but starts to laugh. Arthur gave such convincing performance going towards the chaotic evil alignment. He also pulled off the stories slow burn of depending and embracing the chaos and madness of Joker so well. Every close up of Arthur was a great choice as it showed Arthur’s facial expressions as the Joker should be very expressive in his actions. I know that people will want to compare him to Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. I feel that we should probably treat them both separately. These are two very different, distinct roles and portrayals of the character of Joker.
We got some solid performances from Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin. The late-night talk show host who made fun of Arthur’s stand up routine at Pogos comedy club. Penny Fleck, played by Arthur’s mom who claimed him to be the son of Thomas Wayne. She was a sickly woman who Arthur’s care. We also “meet” Arthur’s girlfriend, Sophie Dumond, played by Zazie Beetz, who lives down the hall from Arthur and is a single mom. They all fit the role that they were playing, and each character had played an essential part in the Joker’s origin story.
Joker has an identity of Arthur Fleck. But though revelations in the story that his mother isn’t his birth mother, an adoptive mother who was neglectful to him as a child and disillusioned about her history and facts. Penny would go on that Thomas Wayne would help them, and how Arthur was Thomas and Penny’s son. This statement was false when Arthur confronted Thomas Wayne about this fact in the movie theatre bathroom and looking at his mother’s medical file from Arkham State Hospital. This revelation erases the identity of Arthur and moves him to a John Doe. It also could be an underlying way to tell the audience that what is being said and shown, might not have happened that way.
Another false narrative I got was a fantasy sequence of Arthur on the Franklin Murray show at the beginning of the movie. He gets cheered and embraced by Franklin Murray, the TV talk show host that Arthur and his mom watched. It was weird to see him look up to Franklin only later to see Franklin make fun of Arthur on his show. Another false narravite, but it does provide a funny way Joker’s name came to be. Franklin does this by calling him “this Joker” before showing his video to the TV Audience. Speaking of TV, the sound effects and sounds played into the unreliable narrative as well. There were times that we got laugh tracks, audible gasp, and cheering at inappropriate times. We also get people not reacting to Arthur’s inappropriate laughter during inappropriate and incorrect times and timing. It was a great choice as usually these sorts of cues are used to manipulate what we are seeing into think that a joke is funny, or a moment is sad.
This movie stayed true to the origins of a Joker. Impressive because the film needed a story and character. Taken from the Killing Joke, a line that stuck with me about The Joker comes from The Killing Joke comic and said by the Joker, “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I’m going to have a past, I’d prefer it to be multiple choice”. This film does deliver on this origin even if it may not seem like that at first. It’s what the movie does well, and I missed it at first. I thought that the story was fair, but I missed that the viewer an “Unreliable Narrative” when you watch the movie. Joker tells the audience one thing, but then shows the audience something else later. Making someone question “Wait, what did I just see, because that’s not what the movie showed me”? This movie seemed to do this with several different methods.
Joker was telling us that Arthur was having a relationship with Sophie, a neighbor of Arthur living in the same apartment building as him. It looked rather convincing we see her with him. She goes to Pogos comedy club to watch him perform and is even is with him as Penny went into the hospital after having a stroke. But in the scene went, Arthur goes and sits on the Sophie couch; she only recognized him as a neighbor and nothing else. Revealing in a flashback that Sophie was never there at all but in Arthur’s mind — playing to the unreliable narrative for the audience.
An easy to spot Arthur becoming Joker is through his inadvertent actions and dialogue. What started as self-defense shooting and killing two Wayne Enterprises businessmen who were beating him down on a subway and leading Arthur to execute the third man on the steps of the Subway station. These actions inadvertently sparked a violent revolution with the lower class of Gotham City that starts to take it out and riot on the streets. Towards the end of the movie, we also get two former co-workers Randall and Gary. Randall framed him and got him fired when the gun Randall gave Arthur fell out while he was performing at a children’s hospital. Arthur brutally killed Randall but let Gary go because he was kind to him, albeit scaring him while allowing him out of Arthur’s apartment. It also seemed to play to the Joker’s philosophy of introducing a little anarchy, upset established order, and watch everything become chaos.
If I have one major problem with this movie, it’s Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Wayne’s backstory constantly being shown in movies. I was ok with them being shown in the background and shown in mediums like the newspaper, or TV. I was also ok with Thomas and Bruce on-screen with Arthur. But why do we have to see Thomas and Martha Wayne getting killed in the alley behind the theatre? How many times do we have to see Thomas And Martha Wayne getting killed in the alley behind the theatre? What purpose do we have to see Thomas And Martha Wayne getting shot in the alley behind the theatre, still? I’m convinced it must be in Warner Bros, DC, or maybe the Kane family decision. All of this is my speculation that has to have this scene if Batman is in any origin movie. I’m sure everyone on earth knows about Thomas and Martha Wayne getting killed in front of Bruce is the one inspiration of Bruce becoming Batman. Why does this have to be shown in nearly every film that has Bruce Wayne/Batman? Doing this can cause the viewer to think about plot holes with this, like “How come a billionaire doesn’t have a security detail protecting him and his family?” This scene doesn’t need to exist anymore, and I hope that it gets left out in future film iterations.
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