Among the various iconic villains spread throughout the history of America’s pop culture, the Joker is unparalleled due to the complexity of the character’s background fused with his excited nature, both in comic books and on the big screen. Yet another depiction of the clown prince of crime hit theaters on Thursday, Oct. 4, receiving a wide range of reactions from viewers across the nation.
“Joker”, directed by Todd Phillips, is an in-depth perspective of Arthur Fleck’s descent toward violence and rise to becoming a symbol for a political uprising. By the end of the film you see how a severely mentally ill man transforms into the most unpredictable villain in his city, Gotham.
“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.”
Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, delivers this chilling line seemingly fulfilled with how he has transformed himself throughout the events of the story. However, upon watching the film, one realizes that his life is indeed quite tragic. From the parallels of his life with the gloomy and deteriorating Gotham City, to the revelation that he was a victim of abuse that left his brain damaged, the constant misfortunes that Fleck experiences has driven him to make a joke out of any catastrophe.
Of all of the misfortunes we witness during Fleck’s life, him getting mugged in the streets of Gotham is the first shown in the film. Another mugging later in the film, this time on the subway, leads to Fleck defending himself with a gun. This is the first violent act that he commits in the film. He kills the three “wall-street guys” who were attacking him on the subway and flees immediately.
His newfound sense of humor is evident in the film’s climax. Joker comfortably admits on live television that he was the killer on the subway. He is then asked by Robert De Niro’s character, the late-night talk show host named Murray Franklin, if he thinks killing those guys was funny.
“I do, and I’m tired of pretending it’s not. Comedy is subjective, Murray. Isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what’s right or wrong. The same way that you decide what’s funny or not.”
There’s more to this line than just the words that Joker is saying. His moment on Murray Franklin’s show is when he reveals himself as the center of the political movement in Gotham. Since Fleck’s killing of the three “wall-street guys,” the conflict of the city’s elite versus the lower class grew tenfold.
Once he admits that he is the killer, he attempts to justify his actions by painting himself as the victim. This is where the film’s direction presents Joker’s actions as understandable due to the experiences that he has had in Gotham. Throughout the film you witness Fleck’s tragic experiences, possibly even feeling some empathy for the character, but empathy can only go so far.
As the conflict between rich and poor develops in the city, the people who detest Fleck’s behavior are depicted as a flawed part of Gotham’s corrupted, the antagonists. From Joker’s violent acts during the climax of the film to the riots that he unintentionally incites, the film sends the message that if the world is cruel to you, violence may be the answer.
Throughout the film, there was a near direct parallel between mental health and violence. Even the other asylum patients that were in the background of the film were shown having smaller violent outbursts. It was an extreme that was most likely emphasized for dramatic effect. It seems like an odd approach for a story to include this parallel nowadays, given that society is quick to blame violent acts on poor mental health, even if it may not be the case.
The violent turn made by Fleck was inevitable, as fans of the Batman stories throughout the years are aware of Joker’s true nature. This film’s approach to the character’s origin, however, was quite unique. Highlighting some severe mental health issues in the characters past and present life, including some brain damage that he may have experienced, is a possible explanation for his sudden uncontrollable laughing outbursts. It was a true in-depth case study on a man who describes himself as a “mentally ill loner”.
This film left me with many questions once it had concluded. Questions that I’m glad it did not answer. It’s the type of film that I like to watch more than once, in order to catch a line that I did not pick up on previously. Because of the thought-provoking nature of the story, I give “Joker” 4.5 stars out of 5.