Captivating and unsettling: two words to describe the performance of Joaquin Phoenix in his portrayal of the Joker in what is one of this year’s most anticipated films.
The days of cheery, good guys prevailing superhero movies have come to an immediate stop with Todd Phillips’ newest addition to the DC universe, Joker. The film opens with an introduction to the main character, Arthur Fleck. The audience quickly realizes the spiteful world in which Arthur lives. While Arthur is working as a clown outside a shop, he is mugged and robbed by a group of boys in broad daylight. The scene illustrates a central theme of the film that Arthur is discarded by society, and nothing but a “clown.”
After the beating, he solemnly makes his way back to his Gotham apartment where the audience discovers Arthur, in his perceived mid-30s, lives with his ill mother. The next morning, Arthur shows to work and is confronted by one of his co-workers who offers Arthur a pistol, noting how crazy Gotham is and how Arthur needs to protect himself. Arthur is constantly reminded of how “crazy” Gotham is which serves as a key piece of irony since Arthur will become the source of chaos for the city. Later in the film, Arthur is fired from his job and is on the subway when he is assaulted by three young drunk Gotham bankers. Arthur pulls the gun and kills two of the men instantly while maiming the third. In an integral scene, Arthur approaches the third man as he attempts to crawl away from the slaughter. Arthur takes a chilling look at the man, now in a pool of his own blood, before raising the gun and executing the man on the subway steps. The scene serves as a clear transition from the character of Arthur Fleck to, Arthur’s new identity, Joker.
From that point on, the story only delves deeper and deeper into the twisted, delusional, and psychotic mind of Joker. His behavior becomes so erratic toward the end of the film that I felt genuinely disturbed and anxious as the plot becomes darker and darker. Joker’s mind seemingly ping-pongs back and forth between reality and delusion, leaving onlookers confused and mortified. In a gripping scene just before the credits, Joker has created mass chaos in the city and is in the back of a cop car when the car is smashed into by another vehicle. Joker emerges from the car and is swarmed by a crowd wearing clown masks. They hoist him on the hood of the smashed car chanting and gallivanting like mad men. As Joker looks out over the city in flames, the scene cuts to one more familiar. A lone boy in an alleyway, his mother and father shot dead beside him and nothing but the terrors of the night drowning out young Bruce Wayne’s lament. A fitting end to the disturbing introduction of one of Hollywood’s most well-known villains, yet one cannot help but ask what’s next.
It’s hard to say what filmmakers have coming for us, but I encourage movie enthusiasts and casual film-goers alike to check out this recent release and get a picture inside the horrifying psychopathic mind of the Joker.