By James Davidson
“Joker” is a film that is loosely based on the makeup-wearing villain in DC’s Batman Universe. The movie follows mentally ill, wannabe comedian, Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) as he struggles to fit into modern society. Fleck has had a very disturbing childhood and was raised by a mentally-disturbed mother. He works as a clown in 1980’s Gotham City where there is an economic chasm dividing society. Arthur decides that the society is slanted against people like him, that aren’t born into wealth, power, and general wellness. After murdering three upper-class young men on a subway, in what could arguably be called self-defense, Fleck unwittingly begin a class riot that overtakes the city. Due to the city cutting the funding of the social welfare program that Arthur attends, he is unable to get the medication that he heavily relies upon and begins an extremely violent and senseless crime spree which encourages his supporters and the rioting.
This character is very loosely based on the comic book character, so if you are going to see an origin story of a villain that is familiar to you, you are going to be sorely disappointed. This iteration of the character likely inspired the Joker that most of us are familiar with, it doesn’t seem to be the origin of the character itself. This story serves to set up the ideology behind the Joker more than establish the character himself.
This movie inspired a lot of feelings and emotions in me, most of them were not good ones. The overwhelming feeling that I had while viewing the movie was unsettling discomfort. This doesn’t mean that the movie was poorly made, in fact, it was extremely well-made and Joaquin Phoenix gave an Oscar-worthy performance. However, I believe that the movie was supposed to bring these feelings of discomfort to light, and for that, it did the job. The film is obviously trying to bring light to mental illness and society’s reaction to and treatment of people who suffer with it. The only issue I had with this concept is that it seemed to glorify violence in reaction to those situations. The movie portrays Fleck as the hero, even after he goes on a violent murdering spree.
As I said, from a purely film-making point of view, this movie is a masterpiece. It has amazing acting, which will probably earn several Oscar nominations; and the writing is second to none. It’s a very well-executed, groundbreaking film that will probably get a lot of love during award season. However, it is just not necessarily an enjoyable movie to watch. It’s very emotionally heavy and has a lot of political and social commentary which really gives the viewer a need to stop and digest what they have just seen. After leaving the theater, I had to find a fun, light comedy to watch to lighten the heaviness this movie left in my brain.
The amount of violence in this movie was obviously put there for shock value, and it definitely accomplishes that. It was very grisly and over-the-top, which just adds to the discomfort of the film. The violence and obvious disturbing content of this movie means that it is clearly not for everyone. If you are sensitive to violence or any kind of disturbing images at all, I would recommend skipping this movie. But, if you would like to see a thoughtful, well-written and excellently acted movie and you don’t mind the content being heavy and disturbing; this is a great choice. If you are going to see this as a fan of the Batman comics, be prepared to be disappointed. Bruce Wayne does make an appearance as a child, but there are very few references to the Batman universe overall in this movie.
“Joker” is a well-made film filled with commentary about mental illness in society. It will mostly likely evoke feelings of discomfort; but, if you can look past the uneasiness, is a great movie worth seeing at least once. I struggled with what rating to give this movie, because it was so well-made, but personally I thought it was an uncomfortable film and I’m not sure if I could watch it again, especially due to the glorified violence. I decided that the cinematography, writing, and acting alone earns this movie a 4 out of 5 stars.