Movie Review


Poster for Todd Phillips’s Joker                                 Photo Courtesy: IMDb

Sahil Koul, Writer

Is the joke on us?





As we approach the two-month mark of Joker’s box office explosion let’s explore what it is about the film that has resonated with millions of viewers. 

A comic book film with no tight suits and no capes, Joker delves deep into the demons hidden inside humans and sets a precedent for all character dramas to come. The average moviegoer’s attraction for the film is there, no question. The Joker, a widely sought out anti-hero urging to make a comeback on theater screens, has obviously attracted many DC fanatics. However, the movie is mostly just a wholesome blur of a troubled man’s life that flashes before our eyes. The film barely encapsulates the meaning of the thriller genre it strives to reach.

The plot is promising but not as good as the viewers’ expected.  With the massive hype this film received, the audience was more or less expecting a story of greater meaning. Director Todd Phillips starts by bringing viewers down the dark journey of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), an excluded middle-aged comedian who lives with and takes care of his mother. Due to a rapid chain of events, including the criticism he receives on his comedic advertising gig, his misfortune with women, his constant negative thinking, and ultimately getting fired from his job, the demon within Fleck unleashes itself. He murders three young Wall Street employees in cold-blood on a subway train for hectoring him. This begins his downward spiral and he becomes obsessed with brewing a revolution for the underprivileged members of society including himself.

However, the underlying effect of this hodgepodge of character development leads to exactly that, a hodgepodge. Joker attempts to settle down this abrupt dramatization through subplots (such as his hallucinated romance with his apartment neighbor), and the underrepresented inclusion of the Wayne family, but it doesn’t justify the hurried, but hooking narrative.

Joaquin Phoenix’s work is commendable. The seasoned method actor manages to transform Arthur Fleck into a character not only of high likability but also of deep complexity. His character arc is well set up by Todd Phillips, who by the way, killed it with his camera work in this film. Phoenix’s emotional range is tested greatly by Phillips and he firmly accepted the challenge. His talent does not go unnoticed throughout the film.

This new take on the Joker character quickly turns from a failed stand up comedian to a revolution starting killer. The pace at which the plot is advanced is very cursory and does not assist Phillips’s goal of displaying Fleck’s complex development. Even so, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal is remarkable and don’t be surprised if his name pops up during Oscar season next February.

Hmm, Todd Phillips. That ending.

Many questions have popped up regarding the crazily horrifying, but somewhat needed conclusion that we got from Joker. On one hand, killing a famous talk show host on live television is brutal on its own, but on the way to the police office, the car carrying Fleck crashes, and the Joker steadily awakes to a massive Gotham uprising (clown masks everywhere). Fleck stands on top of a car, takes his blood on his hands, and stretches his teeth into a forced sickening smile giving reference to his disability to smile earlier in the film. Now that is brutal. That is the denouement, my friends. The climactic finale.

However, the last scene of the film is what stirs up the speculation. Fleck is in a mental asylum with his therapist and he starts to laugh. I mean really laugh. He says to her, “You wouldn’t get it. There’s a lot going on in there that’s interesting.” Obviously, he is referencing Gotham and the city’s current state of unrest. The real question is: Is Fleck even the Joker?

By this final scene, we get the thought that someone else who has experienced this downward turn in events in Gotham got inspired by Fleck and might end up becoming the true Joker. Fleck merely just served as a guide, a precedent for things to come.

All in all, Joker is a top thriller that keeps you hooked from start to finish. The hasty drive of the plot is unnecessary, but Joaquin Phoenix’s individual performance is what allowed me to give the film a solid 3.5.

Joker tests the limits of what the film-industry can handle these days and its ingenuity led the film to cross over $1 billion at the box office, deservedly. This makes Joker the first R-rated film of all time to cross the billion-dollar mark, the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 2019 (so far), and the 36th-highest-grossing film of all time.

I guess the joke was on us.

—Also, big props to the casting team for getting Robert De Niro on this.  You can’t spell “great movie” without “De Niro”.