Joker (2019): Phoenix Soars in a Menacing Origin Story of the Iconic Villain
Joker Analysis: Joker is a morbid origin story of the clown prince of crime of Gotham. Starting with a likeable character named Arthur Fleck with a condition; transforming him into an anti-hero before fully embracing the iconic villain as he has always been in the comics. The metamorphosis is absolutely fascinating to watch. It is this metamorphosis that is the essence of this film.
At the start of the film you would see a seemingly benevolent Arthur Fleck; downtrodden, lonely yet managing to get by with an ambition to become comedian. There is only a hint of madness in him, but it was well under control with bit of harmless delusions coming in play. This part would remind you of ‘King of Comedy’. As the film progresses, Arthur decides to stand up to bullies and take matter into his own hands a.k.a vigilantism, akin ‘Taxi Driver’. But, as more things unravel around him, he gradually brings the evil out and becomes the ‘Joker’.
The rapidly growing criticism of this film, which is of violence being glorified, is a bit uncalled for. Even if we put aside the argument of ‘Criticism of politique of a film does not amount to film criticism’, ‘Joker’ does not really hide its violence behind mental illness or class struggle.
Mental illness has always been a part of Joker’s legacy, needless to say that. A sympathetic look on it was to establish the premise of the transformation of the character. Similarly, Joker was not representing class struggle, Arthur Fleck was. ‘Joker’ as he admitted in the film is no face of any political ideology. The gambit of making Thomas Wayne the capitalist authoritative figure paid off in that regard, to help Arthur Fleck becoming the Joker.
The film’s sympathetic origin story of DC’s iconic villain doesn’t undermine the absolute evil of the character. It provides a melancholic touch, much like Alan Moore’s ‘Killing Joke’, for how it all went bad for the villain. The circumstances of Arthur Fleck is not justification for the Joker’s acts. It is a highlight of the metamorphosis of Fleck to Joker.
Coming to that metamorphosis, it probably would not been half as beautiful and menacing as it was, without the riveting performance of Phoenix. It is an iconic acting performance suited for the iconic character. Phoenix was absolutely stunning. He was the right amount of crazy, right amount of sane, right amount of sad, right amount of wrath. And that is while the character was gradually shifting from one side to another.
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Todd Phillips showed immense restrain in not going absolute bonkers and yet producing menacing and crafty images of the entire transformation through his set of scenes. His directions, and also the editing, helps the film get the unpredictable dangerous vibe that is associated with the eponymous villain.
With influences from both ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘King of Comedy’, Joker is a well shot film, driven by Phoenix, which could be a new direction for DC (I know it is not part of DCU) to venture on.