’Joker’ is a crime/psychological thriller movie based upon the DC super villain ‘The Joker’. The time period of the movie is set in 1981. The film is about Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix – who was tipped for an Oscar for his role after it’s first screening!) whose attempts to become a comedian are shunned. He is left in mental agony as his life slowly steeps into violent insanity. Through this change Fleck uses his comedic clown persona to take revenge on the corrupt society of Gotham. He manipulates the city into following him as he manages to get a slot in the show he was rejected from. This is his platform for mass chaos to ensue as he transforms into the infamous ‘Joker’.
This film has garnered a host of awards with the intense performance by Joaquin Phoenix picking up five awards. Most recently and significantly the film won the Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix) as well as Best Original Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir) Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards. The cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beets, Brian Tyree Henry and more.
Fleck is a mentally unstable man and is labelled as a mentally ill outcast. He has a compulsive laughing condition whereby he laughs at random moments. We see him accustomed to the condition (indicating he has had it for quite some time) as he gives a card to those he affects detailing the medical reason for his laughter.
His journey leads him to believe that he is not ill or different – he is labelled so by a society coaxing people into believing they are. Ultimately, Fleck is able to break this cycle and express himself. This can be interpreted as something that allows him to become mentally free. He can finally integrate into a society that he made and rule the thugs and hooligans he inspired – he is praised by the crime-ridden Gotham city.
A major character in the film is Thomas Wayne – a sort of antagonist if you view Fleck as a protagonist. Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne (Batman), represents the rich and poses as a political figure promising to instil order to the city. This is resented by those who see through his empty promises.
Pivotal Scenes Overview
While at the comedy club, Fleck is mugged by unruly teens and loses a sign poster. A co-worker tells him that he has to stick up and protect himself. He gives Fleck a gun.
The film is propelled by Fleck’s actions in the subway. Shortly after receiving the gun, we see Fleck on a train in his clown makeup and wig. He begins to laugh compulsively. Some drunk corporate employees in the background shift towards him and begin to mock him. They start to kick Fleck before he draws out his gun and shoots his attackers. One of the men leaves the train, leg injured, with Fleck pursuing him. He is shot down again and then once more as a finishing blow. This is a turning point in the movie and in Fleck’s life. Fleck stood up for himself but in a violent and outlandish fashion. This incident becomes breaking news and Fleck’s clown appearance sought for by authorities. This ongoing investigation creates mass controversy as the employees were from Wayne Enterprise. Clown masks begin to circulate among citizens in support of the murderer of the victims. Disorder escalates.
As Fleck starts to form into the fully fledging Joker, he searches for the man who gave him gun. He invites him and a friend to his flat. Fleck arms himself with scissors ready for their arrival, and as the gun provider stood face-to-face with Fleck he reveals the weapon and swiftly stabs through the side of his neck and proceeds to insert the scissors forcefully through his eyes. It is a very intense and bloody scene but is lightened by the victim’s non-threatening dwarf friend needing assistance to open the door.
Fleck has a loving, strong bond with his ailing mother. He cares for her as best as he can from feeding her to bathing her. His mother is obsessed with getting recognition from Thomas Wayne to help her and her son. However, we realise, through a letter Fleck opens that his mother and Wayne had a relationship and that he is Wayne’s illegitimate son. He is shocked and reacts by seeking the attention of Wayne at a rally.
He enters a back door and confronts Wayne who is in the toilets. Wayne denies the relationship and says that his mother was delusional and sick. He continues by claiming Fleck was adopted. A remarkable scene follows as Fleck he goes to Wayne manor and at the gates he sees a young Bruce Wayne before being asked to leave by Alfred Pennyworth. Fleck discovers through old newspapers that he was subject to severe abuse while chained to a radiator as an infant. This leads him back to his mother’s hospital bedside where he kills her by suffocating her with a pillow.
Throughout the film, Fleck is seen watching the Murray Franklin Show who’s host (Robert De Niro) calls Fleck to invite him on. Fleck tells the host that he wishes to wear his makeup and costume. He is granted his wish. Preparing himself, Fleck asks Murray to introduce him as ‘Joker’ and explains by telling him that that was what he called Fleck when airing a video of him doing stand-up. Fleck is behind stage and begins his signature dance. He enters the room and greets guests gleefully. He begins to talk about the train murders and confesses. He laughs and the audience is left horrified l. Murray interrogates him and tries to tell him it is wrong and not funny. Fleck sporadically reacts as he holds the gun in his hand. He shoots Murray in the head on air and proclaims his evil actions.
Havoc erupts violently and Fleck is detained and placed in a police car. On the way to the station, the packed streets of Gotham are flooded by clown-masked people rioting. A truck collides with the car and the drivers die. Fleck is badly injured but is pulled out of the vehicle and placed on the hood of the car. He manages to stand up and smiles with blood in his mouth. The clown-masked crowd surround the car and emit cacophonous cheers and sounds. Fleck becomes worshiped and infamous.
There is a great Easter egg at the end when Thomas and Martha Wayne leave a theatre with Bruce. They walk into an alley and are halted by a clown-masked shooter. Thomas and Martha are shot. This is the classic beginning of Bruce Wayne’s story arc into the caped crusader.
The scene cuts to Fleck’s detainment into an asylum for the criminally insane. There is a close-up if his chains as he talks to a psychiatrist. He kills her off-screen and leaves with blood on his feet. He is chased and then chases a guard in another darkly comic sequence as the film ends.
There are many conclusions that we can draw to rationalise Fleck’s behaviour. His original motive can be seen as a means of self-defence, but this morphs into the act of taking down all who look down upon him. Incidentally, he instigates a mutiny against those in power.
The movie has many interesting minor themes that make it so excellent. One of these is the constant kicking and stomping of victims. Philips uses the symbol of being beaten into the ground to demonstrate the idea of being downtrodden and cemented into to the guttural world of Gotham; usually to show the fortunate how the unfortunate fair.
Fleck’s dancing in the movie is rather interesting but somewhat disturbing. He ‘randomly’ dances like he laughs. After his triple murder on the train he enters the toilets and dances in the same rhythm he does for the rest of the movie. This may signify a means of him escaping the harsh world he lives in by expressing something more positive.
In the movie, we see Zazie Beets character embark on a relationship with Arthur. This seems to bring him some joy but we realise that this was a delusion. Fleck enters her apartment soaked by rain and sits on her sofa while she was occupied with her child. Beets’ character enters the room and is startled and asks him to leave and he does so. We don’t see her again in the film but the director tells us that Fleck did not murder her.
This delusion questions the nature of every other scene in the movie. We are left confused. What if the whole movie’s events weren’t real and he was always in the asylum?
Overall, ‘Joker’ is an incredibly dark and intense film. People have even left the cinema due to this and many critics have addressed the films gritty portrayal of life in a negative light. Despite this, everyone who I have talked with about the film has been thoroughly entertained and stunned as well as thousands of other viewers.
In the end, Fleck is embraced by the unruly people he inspired – he is finally accepted and seen as a part of society, the detrimentally evil one which he created.
A brief evaluation of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker
Joaquin Phoenix’ performance will most definitely win him the 2020 Best Actor Oscar due to his brilliant method acting, from his iconic laugh to bringing emotional depth to the character. One thing that no other Joker has done is make the audience sympathise with him: a murderous, villainous, scheming monster.
‘Joker’ is a character study so is focused solely on the life of Arthur Fleck (Joker). Phoenix has a film which he can control and dictate to demonstrate his skills. He does this flawlessly.
‘The Dark Knight’ is a film based upon Batman’s (Christian Bale) journey. To the contrary, Heath Ledger’s Joker steals the screen and makes himself a more relevant character than Bruce Wayne. This feat is something difficult for any actor to achieve and makes Ledger’s almost unrivalled performance greater than almost any other.
He gives a twisted and complex portrayal of ‘The Crowned Prince Of Crime’. This cements Ledger’s Joker as the greatest Joker of all time.
Returning to ‘Joker’,
I would rate this film a solid 10/10