By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Joker is a gritty and thrilling contemporary adaptation with an awards worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix. A disturbing and demented origin story that breaks down the iconic Batman villain and strips him raw. What we’re left with is a frail, damaged and vulnerable member of a failed society… Even so, the film doesn’t break as much ground as one might expect.
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover), Joker follows Arthur Fleck, a failing comedian and clown who lives with his elderly mother (Frances Conroy) who after being tormented by colleagues, beaten up by gangs and preyed on by the wealthy transforms into the infamous clown prince of Gotham.
Phoenix’ Joker is an interesting portrayal. The actor takes on the role with equal parts melancholia and mania. His body bruised, contorted and almost anorexic in appearance match the complexity of his demeanor which is always somewhere between darkly comic and depressing. I have no doubts that he’ll be generating a lot of awards buzz this season.
Arthur Fleck’s metamorphosis into the Joker is mesmerising and for the most part very well executed and tense. The soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl) contributes to this and is full of doom and gloom. It’s also elegantly shot with some beautiful sequences of Phoenix dancing around the streets in a suit that resembles Cesar Romero’s Joker in the ’60s television series more than recent adaptations.
Martin Scorsese lent a hand as an advisor on the film and his influence is about as subtle as a bull in a china shop. There’s a very Taxi Driver and King of Comedy approach to the whole film which even features Robert De Niro as a prominent Gotham City talk show host – an inspiration to Fleck. It’s very much an underdog story about man vs. society, and that of course is where things are going to become a bit bonkers for us in the real world.
The film has already been culturally appropriated by the far right and incel communities of mantrolls on social media who look up to the Gotham gangster as inspiration and will no doubt be causing some trouble in the near future because they take things WAY TOO literally. I can’t wait to roll my eyes this Halloween when the legions of men in Joker makeup and clown masks show up at every party in town.
It’s all quite ironic because despite it being a very engaging and well directed film, there is nothing original or groundbreaking about Joker. It’s an interesting portrayal of society, especially American society and how they continue to ignore the mentally ill… but I still can’t believe it won Best Film at Venice.
We’ve seen this superhero / supervillain movie before. Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy did the grit thing already. A lot of the quotes in the film including the ‘I used to think my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it’s a comedy’ reminded me of Watchmen, a film and graphic novel that serves up plenty more food for thought than this origin story.
Joker is now showing in Czech cinemas.
Photo: Vertical Entertainment