Prism

Film Review: Joker

10 October 19 words: Emma Walsh

It’s already being called the film of the year and even got an eight-minute standing ovation at its premiere, but what is it about Joker that makes it so spectacular?

Director: Todd Phillips

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Running time: 122 mins

Joker offers a brand-new perspective of our favourite DC villain, following the origin story of Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) as he attempts to navigate a ruthless life in Gotham City before finally becoming the Joker. It’s a journey of self-discovery that could even be seen to create sympathy for Gotham’s dreaded clown, while it also offers a harrowingly accurate account of battling a mental illness.

Unexpectedly, the film creates a huge amount of sympathy for the Joker, perhaps because we were introduced to him as Arthur Fleck, whose only goal in life is to make people happy in a city where there is so much hate. Almost as soon as the film begins, you realise that Arthur is set to be painted as a victim of society, an idea further emphasised when it is revealed that Arthur has a neurological condition that lends itself to society’s ridicule. As the story develops, we come to feel for Arthur that much more, from his taking care of his fragile mother, to discovering some home truths that make him question his whole life. Yet despite all this, he’s determined to be happy and make everyone around him feel that same joy, leading to his decision to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. Although he doesn’t seem to understand what truly makes people laugh, it’s his dedication to this idea of inciting joy and laughter that makes us so sympathetic towards him when his efforts are thrown back in his face, his idol and even his own mother dashing his dreams in their own ways. In a somewhat twisted way, the sympathy created for Arthur almost makes it easier for us to justify his becoming the Joker as he finally realises that he doesn’t have to sit back and take society’s abuse anymore. His transformation allows him to become the face of a cause, an idol to a group of people who cheer him, support him and incite chaos for him.

A remarkable reminder of the poignant truth that sometimes it’s the people who look the happiest and laugh the loudest who are really hurting the most

Phoenix’s portrayal is fantastic to say the least. For starters, the amount of weight he must have lost for the role is astonishing and is a true reflection of his dedication to both the role and to method acting as a practice. Not only that, but his laughter holds a slightly haunting aspect that is spot on for the role. Phoenix shines in the film due to the sheer number of scenes Arthur has by himself, a lot of which include dancing on his own. However, one of the most memorable scenes involves Arthur dancing down some steps, donned in a suit, tie and full clown makeup, almost flaunting his self-discovery of the Joker. It’s a magical scene because it makes it seem like Arthur, so meticulous in his planning, has been practicing this dance in all the other scenes, practicing for his big performance. Some fantastic camera work further solidifies Arthur’s transition to Joker, parallel shots comparing his life before and after he became a symbol for riot in Gotham.

Potentially one of the best things about the film, however, is its addressal of mental illnesses. It provides a harrowingly accurate record of what it is like to live with a mental illness, and it has been aptly released during a time where the topic is getting the recognition it deserves. As part of this, we are completely at the mercy of Arthur’s own imagination; he manages to convince us that things are real that aren’t, that things have happened that haven’t. He conjures up entire relationships that never existed, and so we never know what to believe. Perhaps this reflects Arthur’s own mental state, merely personified on screen for audiences to be drawn into. It’s because of this concept, however, that the ending of the film is so ambiguous. It leaves you wondering whether any of the events of the film have happened, or whether Arthur has managed to conjure up an entire make-believe narrative that he has convinced us is real.

Joker is not so much a gory film as it is dark; it’s about a dark subject brought to life through a dark representation, and it’s a remarkable reminder of the poignant truth that sometimes it’s the people who look the happiest and laugh the loudest who are really hurting the most. Truly brilliant.

Did you know? Joaquin Phoenix called perfecting the Joker's laugh the toughest part of playing the character.

Joker is in cinemas now