The Beardict: 9.25 out of 10.
Anarchy starts within a person, and then it spreads like wildfire to a society just waiting for a catalyst. Joker (2019) is a disturbing piece of cinema worthy of Academy Awards and the utmost praise. Warner Bros. successfully abandons the traditional superhero movie approach and transcends the genre through this well-crafted origin story. By going all out in his transformation from Arthur Fleck to the Clown Prince of Crime, Joaquin Phoenix makes audiences everywhere shudder at just how effective he is at playing a deranged individual.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
I honestly didn’t know who Director/Writer Todd Phillips was before Joker (2019), and when I looked up what he did, I was surprised to find raunchy comedies such as The Hangover Trilogy and Old School under his belt. I suppose you can make a case that Joker is just a different brand of “comedy,” as it’s probably the saddest movie of all time with the most laughter in it. Phillips’ familiarity with the subject of humor must have been responsible for the inclusion of the laughing disease officially called “emotional incontinence” or the “pseudobulbar affect” (which explains why Arthur laughs uncontrollably during random moments), as well as Joker’s speech about who’s to decide which material is funny or not.
In the Philippines, the uncut version of Joker (2019) was released and slapped with an R-16 rating, and for good reason. Mature themes such as mental illness, suicide, bullying and abuse were tackled immensely. When it came to the violence, it was not gratuitous at all as each kill and act of brutality were instrumental to Joker’s character development.
There has always been some mysticism in terms of how Joker came to be, and even comic book stories over the years have offered up various explanations. However, this time around, we get a solid look inside the complex mind of one Arthur Fleck, who’s suffering from mental illness and is constantly being pushed over the edge. The fact that we get to know a lot about his thought process without character narration is a testament to how great this movie is.
Someone like the Joker doesn’t just happen overnight. The film excellently lays out how an awkward outcast becomes a full-fledged psychopath. One could say that in the beginning, Arthur was just an average person doing his best to survive. He worked as a clown to bring joy to people. He liked to dance, had dreams to do stand-up comedy, and took care of his ill mother (as any responsible son would). However, the cruel nature of Gotham quelled any shot he had of living a happy life. Aside from the beating he regularly took from strangers, the city cut funding for his therapy sessions and pills, and the divide between the rich and the poor grew even wider.
It didn’t help that he also had daddy issues, and Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) were potential father figures who failed him. To make matters worse, both of them represented Gotham’s elite, who were not necessarily bad people but just way out of touch when it came to reality. To say that his relationship with his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) also complicated things is a severe understatement.
Joaquin Phoenix has played a host of characters over the years, from Commodus in Gladiator (2000) to Theodore in Her (2013). However, his take on Arthur/Joker has to be his best performance ever. From his facial expressions, voice, to his body movements and mannerisms–how he made the role his own is both impressive and downright terrifying. It’s so convincing that it makes me want to ask him in real life if he is feeling okay. Seriously. That being said, I’m glad Phoenix didn’t take the role of Doctor Strange because it looks like he was really meant to play the Joker. Together with the superb sound editing and score, he made every scene he was in riveting. In case It Chapter Two and Pennywise were not enough in making us scared of clowns last month, then Phoenix’s Joker will surely do the trick, and he didn’t need supernatural powers at all to accomplish it.
Indeed, Joker doesn’t have a superpower, but his unpredictability comes close to being one. When we were at the cinema, viewers were literally squealing in their seats because no one was sure of what was going to happen next. A very calm scene could lead to a gut-wrenching one in a span of three seconds. When Joker finally strips himself of inhibitions and stops giving a crap about things, he becomes downright lethal. He changes his mind often but once committed to a decision, he implements it ruthlessly without a single shred of remorse. He doesn’t think he’s good, but he doesn’t think he’s evil either. He just thinks and then acts, consequences be damned.
Although Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece The Dark Knight (2008) was released more than 10 years ago, many still regard it as the best Batman movie of all time. Clearly, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker had a lot to do with that. While we’re not here to debate who the better Joker is, and obviously, Joker (2019) exists outside of the Christian Bale trilogy, we can confidently say that Phoenix’s Joker is a believable predecessor of Ledger’s Joker (except for that problematic 20-year Bruce Wayne age gap presented). All the self-doubt was already gone in Ledger’s Joker, and he was very comfortable in his own skin, which is how Joker (2019) ended. Gotham’s criminals gravitated towards him because of the chaos he represented. Phoenix’s Joker could have easily said this famous line from The Dark Knight: “Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity. All it takes… is a little push.”
If you’re keeping up with pop culture, you’ve probably seen memes of the Joker dancing on a flight of stairs, edited to include Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) from Spider-Man 3 and sometimes even Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) from the Star Wars prequels. While the memes are quite hilarious and all, the real scene is actually pivotal to the film as it is the exact moment where Arthur breaks free from the bonds of society. All his life, he tried his best to conform to a city which consistently rejected him, but no more. He celebrated Arthur Fleck’s death and the Joker’s birth with spectacular over-the-top dancing. Finally, he was visible and had the stage, and can now shape the world to his advantage.
Without a doubt, Joker (2019) is an affair unlike any other movie that deals with superheroes and villains out there. It is a cinematic masterpiece (albeit, a depressing one) by DC Films that centers on a psychopathic murderous clown and touches on several very controversial topics, something Marvel Studios won’t be doing anytime soon. If Avengers: Endgame is the type of movie that gets your heart beating with excitement, then Joker is one that will punch it several times to remind you that life is painful, and you have to live with that pain.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Joker is out now in cinemas near you!