Written and directed by Todd Phillips, the film
sets in 1981 and it is a tragic journey of a character named Arthur Fleck
played by Joaquin Phoenix. Arthur Fleck is a failed standup comedian, who lives
with his mother, takes good care of her and resides in the dark, grim,
fictional city of Gotham.
We soon discover that Arthur suffers from a special medical condition in which people suffer from uncontrollable laughter. Due to this unusual condition, he is disregarded and humiliated by the society. He is bullied and people think he is a freak. Sudden bursts of laughter at inappropriate moments either put him in trouble or beaten up.
Due to society’s continuous intolerant behavior
and rejection plus lack of parental care and a traumatic childhood this man
gradually becomes a psychopath. How Arthur Fleck transforms into the Clown
Prince of Crime known as the Joker is what the story is all about.
We are all very familiar with the character of
joker. It is such an iconic villain of dc comic series that every actor who
played this character made it memorable and timeless with their acting. Whether
it was Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, they simply won our hearts with their
extra ordinary performances and Joaquin Phoenix is just another incredible
addition in the list.
Joaquin Phoenix is a great seasoned actor and he
left a very strong impact on me for his portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator and
after watching joker I feel no other actor could have performed this role
better than him. His face expressions, his body language, that cynical smile,
those non verbal gestures, his hysterical laughter everything he does on screen
invites the audience into the character’s melancholic disturbed state of mind.
Similarly his physical pain is also reflected through his monstrously thin body
which is remarkable. He has played the character with such conviction and made
it so real that you are almost terrified.
We see him running a lot as if from life itself,
he’s walking through corridors with his back, almost like turning his back to
us. When he is nervous he starts shaking his legs. There are some brief romantic
moments in his life also which are just part of his delusion. There are so many
layers to this character that as you peel, there is more to reveal.
There is hardly any frame in the film in which
you don’t see Joaquin. It is of course a standalone performance, and it’s not
just an Oscar winning performance , but he also provides a great character study
for generations to come.
We also see Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin,
who portrays a very convincing character of a talk show host of the 80s. His
role is small but it is interesting to see how a great actor in very little screen
time can still manage to make the
character absolutely believable.
As far as direction is concerned I think Todd
Phillips has done an excellent job with the choices he has made as a director. The
way Gotham city is represented with a dark tone and a complete retro look is fantastic
and makes a perfect backdrop for Jokers back-story.
Similarly transformation of Arthur Fleck from a
weak outcast into a more confident authoritative noticeable criminal or figure
has been done in a very subtle way. Although film has a bit of violence also
but there are a lot of poetic moments in the film as well e.g. when Arthur
commits the first murder out of self defense, its followed by a very cathartic
ritual sort of a dance which also reminded me of Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
Similarly there is a beautiful dance sequence on stairs
which is choreographed by Joaquin himself along with Michael Arnold. He is dressed
up in a bright red suit, appears with his clown makeup on and starts tap dancing
as a way to celebrate and unleash the evil inside him.
Another very important element which affected me
a lot is its background score created by this amazing Icelandic musician Hildur
Goanadoittr. The sound of the Cello multiplies the magnitude of grief and
sadness Arthur goes through.
Basically Joker is a social commentary about a
broken system and failed society whose unable to handle the sensitivities of a
Some people think that this film might inspire
violence because it glorifies a man who
is an agent of chaos but in my opinion it also raises a very important question
about a society where people are just not good listeners. Nobody has time to
listen or feel for each other In one scene Arthur says to his counselor very
‘You don’t listen do you?’
Personally I think through this film the filmmakers
have delivered a very important message that a society that has no sense of
empathy will always produce sadists and anarchists.