When it was announced there was a Joker film in production, a long-suffering sigh was heard around the world. Fans of DC characters have all lost hope for their beloved heroes and villains ever since the Christopher Nolan trilogy ended and Zack Snyder took the reins. Especially when it was announced that Todd Phillips was overseeing the script and direction. Cynicism ran amok with the creator of The Hangover trilogy could do justice with a film about this revered scoundrel, especially with the shadow of Heath Ledger’s performance still in people’s psyches. Then the early images and shorts from this project began to roll out and it was evident this was not the typical comic book figure people had on their pyjamas and pillowcases growing up.
Throughout his life, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) was told by his mother that he should try to make people smile. His day job is to play the role of a clown in various locations throughout the city, until one day he is accosted by a group of teens. In the evenings, he continues his pursuit of laughter with gigs as a stand-up comedian. Despite his best intentions in these two worlds of comedy, he never seems able to find happiness and always comes home to his mother each night disheartened. Arthur shares with his counsellor that he feels like a man beaten down by the world and that he cannot get the release he needs to discover the joy in his life.
Then two events occur in his life that turn the tide on fortunes and paint the way for his inevitable future. Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro), a national talk show host, manages to get footage of Arthur at a local comedy club. The legendary entertainer reaches out to the aspiring comedian to come on his show, which was a dream come true for Arthur. Subsequently, he loses his job as a clown and while mourning the loss of his job he is attacked on the train by a group of young business professionals. The actions that follow this incident provides the former clown with unexpected relief from his psychological and emotional anguish in life. This twisted and violent journey through the mind and world of Arthur Fleck brings together the various storylines that lead him to become one of the most famed villains in history.
Todd Phillips has managed to prove that he can evolve as a writer and director while building upon the iconic character of the Joker. This is the first MA 15+ (R rating -US) of a film about this DC character. A warning to all who attend that this is a graphic novel adaptation that is for mature and discerning audiences only. In sharing this aspect of the film, it is worthy of all of the acclaim for its director and lead actor.
As the film pays homage to Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy and the graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, it only makes sense that Robert De Niro plays a significant role in Phillips' production. These overtures deliver the seedy and dark incubator for the twisted symbol of chaos to fester and grow. Between the setting, broken relationships and mental anguish which all prove to be the catalysts to much of the inner pilgrimage of Phoenix’s brilliant and unsettling portrayal of Arthur Fleck. Even without Batman making a showing in this movie, it does not mean that his influence is not woven into the clown’s personal history.
The comparisons will be inevitable to Ledger’s celebrated performance of the Joker, but it must be said that this is a different history for both roles. In The Dark Knight, the world is introduced to this villain after he had already become the king of chaos. While Phoenix’s story shows how the comedian descends into the mire and rises to become the symbol of anarchy. Both satisfying and unsatisfying, the conclusion will leave everyone questioning reality and where Phillips is trying to take the audience. For the fans, Joker will be a creepy psychological escapade that is hard to swallow, but in the end, all will make complete sense, but does it?
REEL DIALOGUE: Why is there such a stigma with mental health?
Even with modern advancements and education, people still have a hard time knowing how to respond to the topic of mental illness. It is not new to the society, throughout the Bible there are references to individuals that struggle with these internal challenges. The realities portrayed in the Bible help to show that the answers can be found in the words of Jesus. God can help through the journey and know that it is better to seek help than to struggle alone.
Passages on mental illnesses:
Psalm 34:17-20, Matthew 17:14-20, Philippians 4:6-7, 2 Timothy 1:7
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Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Engaging Manager. He enjoys developing large public forums throughout the city to engage workers with the bigger questions of life. He oversees The Edge and Reel Dialogue.