One of the most iconic villains in cinematic history, the Joker, is back on screen in a new light.
Brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix, the origin story of the famed villain is revealed in the highly anticipated film. Before he became the Joker, he began life as Arthur Fleck: an unsuccessful clown and wannabe stand-up comedian.
Fans of the DC Cinematic Universe may argue that Phoenix had big shoes to fill, following the late Heath Ledger’s performance as Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
However, it would be unfair to compare the two great yet differing portrayals of the villain.
While watching Phoenix’s Joker, you see more of the broken man behind the clown face paint. With Ledger’s Joker, what you see is what you get: a twisted psychopath.
There will be no mention of Jared Leto’s Joker—which was surely a slap in the face to Jokers everywhere.
Phoenix truly embodied the Joker, shown not only by his eerie, manic laughter and dejected look in his eyes—but also physically, losing 52 pounds for the role.
With this considerable weight loss, Phoenix was able to contort his body to fit the exact mannerisms of his Joker, down to his walk and dance moves.
In a particularly chilling scene, he looks into the mirror at himself in clown paint with sad, sunken eyes, struggling to smile. He pulls at the corners of his mouth with his fingers to form a smile that looks more like a grimace.
Throughout the movie, Arthur’s existence is miserable and empty. At his day job as a clown, he is beaten up by a group of teenagers and left crying in an alleyway. His boss and coworkers constantly belittle him, and he has a condition in which he is unable to control his laughter at any moment, isolating him from society.
He comes home every night to a grimy, rundown apartment and takes care of his ailing mother, played by Frances Conroy.
The only thing that brings him joy is his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. He aspires to spread happiness in his otherwise cold, lonely world.
Arthur idolizes Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro, a talk show host. In one scene, Arthur dreams that Franklin brought him onstage, gave him a hug, and said, “I would be lucky to have a son like you.”
In reality, Murray makes fun of Arthur’s pathetic stand-up on his show and calls him a “joker.”
Later, Arthur makes his debut as the infamous Joker on the show, leading to an uprising in Gotham City.
Additionally, the soundtrack is a perfect fit, adding to the creepy, dark ambience of the film.
Director Todd Phillips, best known for directing “The Hangover” trilogy, takes a step in the opposite direction of comedy to dive deep into the dark realm of drama. And “Joker” is just about as dark as it gets.
“Joker” is less about an evil, methodical villain terrorizing Gotham, but instead a story of a man whose misfortunes and harrowing mental illness led him to become completely unhinged.
While the audience may not leave the theater wanting to “smile and put on a happy face,” “Joker” provides insight on the devasting effects of mental illness by taking a journey through Arthur Fleck’s mind.
Overall, with superb acting led by Phoenix, a fitting soundtrack, and unforgettable storyline—“Joker” is a must see.