He’s a character we all know so well, and with such a complex and interesting back story, how is an origin film not a good idea? Well as it happens, it’s a great idea, and Todd Phillips’ “Joker” delivers a dark and delicious tale with a perfect front man, telling us the story of how Arthur Fleck became the deranged man we know today.
The risk of taking on such a story is the heavy discourse involved, meaning that you’re in for a ride that is so different from the typical action-loaded superhero film that fills the DC universe.
The Joker has been played by a number of iconic actors, most notably Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, but what of Arthur Fleck, the man behind the makeup? Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role of the man, who works as a ‘hire-a-clown’ type occupation, lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) and laughs uncontrollably in uncomfortable and confronting situations. Of course his mental illness gets him into trouble, with many taking the cackling personally and confronting Arthur in a violent manner, leaving him trembling on the ground covered in bruises on more than one occasion. Arthur escapes from the real world by getting lost in visions that see him adored, as opposed to laughed at or feared, and when he gets left behind by a social worker who is at the mercy of government funds being cut off, Arthur finds himself alone and his mental health deteriorating quickly.
It’s this turn of events that lead the way for the Joker to be ‘born’, and his clown persona quickly becomes his normal. In many ways, we could all relate to Arthur Fleck and his daily struggles, but as his Joker personality quickly takes over, the similarities end and you see him for who he truly is, and the Joker character you all know so well – the villain.
What Phillips has created is a dark and mysterious tale that is so much more than a typical origin story for a character already well know. It’s much more than a comic-book film, and for that reason alone can be applauded and celebrated. If you are expecting a film full of action and superhero-type adventures, see something else. What you’ll get instead is a very clever, thought-provoking and emotional film that will allow you to understand the man behind the mask more than you ever thought you could.
Phoenix is nothing short of perfect as both Arthur Fleck and Joker, as both characters have their own arc that will have you glued to your chair. Robert DeNiro plays the TV host Murray Franklin, whom Fleck idolises, and is a particular standout in “Joker”. Zazie Beetz plays single mother Sophie, Fleck’s neighbour, for whom he holds a torch for and tries to impress. There’s a few other Gotham City characters you will enjoy, such as the unique take on Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), but as with most good movies it’s often more enjoyable going into the film and unwrapping the narrative as it’s presented to you.
“Joker” is hauntingly beautiful, and though shrouded in controversy should be applauded for representing the issues that aren’t often addressed. It’s not your typical DC flick, but that’s what makes it near perfect.