Updated: Oct 28, 2019
How to talk about a movie that was hyped with much anticipation with just its poster release? While the MCU vs DCU battles were being fought online, numerous news articles had floated on the internet about Martin Scorsese directing a Joker movie with Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead and Jared Leto feeling slighted after not being chosen. For DC fans, this is a character that is literally the other side of the Batman coin. The crazier the Joker, the bigger the struggle for Bruce Wayne. But this is a story where Bruce Wayne is just Bruce. And out of nowhere the new face of Joker emerged and took fans by surprise.
So Joker stands out! There are multiple elements in this universe that are similar to three major Joker origin stories. This Arthur Fleck is not the super cunning villain we know from the Animated Series, neither is he the ruthless Joker Heath Ledger played in The Dark Knight, nor is he the disillusioned twin of the crime king from the television series Gotham, or the crazy bastard taking a chemical bath from Suicide Squad, or the engineer from The Killing Joke. This is an origin story, an extremely well-executed one. The story is predictable; from the trailer itself, we knew this would be viewing a spiralling down narrative of a man with a peculiar laughing condition left to his own devices to fend for himself, abused at the hands of an unkind society. His aspirations as a stand-up comedian and clinically depressed personality are at odds with each other. He is employed as a part-time clown, while looking after a sick mother who is obsessed with Thomas Wayne. He too is equally obsessed with his own idol, talk show host Franklin Murray.
The harbinger of chaos is always a gun; like Chekov had uttered: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there." The gun in this story gets shot and escalates the dissent of Arthur Fleck. The universe of this movie is devoid of love and compassion, the economy is failing, and the rich are blaming the poor for taking to the streets. The therapist Arthur visits has no comforting words to offer, as her own life is not soothing either. While co-worker Randall promises to be a friend, he fails at being even a decent colleague. Every relationship that grounds a human to their sanity has been stretched and stabbed with the sharpest knife. As the saying goes: a single act of kindness can save a person. The vice versa happens here.
From getting mugged by children to clashing with Wayne Enterprises workers in the train, everything pushes him. I loved the choices of imagery, there is this constant parallel with the suffering Jesus. When the children brutally beat Arthur and break the signboard on him, the board breaks and forms a yellow cross; it is such a sad scene. Arthur’s Joker persona becomes the symbol of the revolution he never began! When Gotham is finally burning, the entire city in clown masks looks at his twisted, scrawny figure like he is the messiah they were waiting for. There are many more biblical image references that could be mentioned, but that would spoil it for those who have not seen it yet.
I personally enjoyed the violent scenes because they are so unexpected, despite being in a predictable plot. The two twists in the story were screaming themselves out, but I am assuming it was to show how disillusioned Arthur was, while we the audience could see it clearly.
Phoenix is in every scene, and he is terrifying. From his laugh to his dancing scene, he is insanity personified. Characters Sophie Dumond and Penny Fleck had few scenes, but they demanded the audience’s attention during their screen time. And people will love to hate Bill Murray for the next few decades.
Joker has done what it intended to do: it got people talking. People are talking about mental health issues, the pressures of a ruthless capitalist system, lack of kindness, the constant emphasis on the male human to be the protector-provider, and more. From its saturated and inverted colour play (common to French movies) on the classic psycho-thriller narrative, to threatening music, everything about Joker is unnerving. It evokes a strange sense of sympathy in its viewers. In the theatre, the girl sitting beside me was crying on her boyfriend’s shoulder because she could empathize with Arthur Fleck’s distress and dissent. My partner was looking at this cinema from an entirely different lens. Thrice she uttered that this story on screen was not a new story. America, according to the news that she daily reads about, has a serious problem of deranged young white men who consider themselves to be "incels", and who at times are plunging into madness and turning violent. So did Hamlet. He too was canonically a white man who lost his mind and went on a murder spree.
Stories of madness and chaos are always lucrative and provide an escape, but should we use Joker as an example to justify the bad happenings around the world? NO! We should see this movie as a mirror reflecting the symptoms of an ailment that is hollowing the society, and not draw inspiration from it to start shooting people!
Joker is currently playing in theatres.
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Suicide Squad (2016)