Joker: A breath of fresh air

Director Todd Phillips’ newest film is the most thought-provoking superhero flick in recent memory


Courtesy of Business Insider

Accusations of glorifying gun violence and mental illness has resulted in “Joker” being one of the most controversial superhero films in recent memory. Nonetheless, it has become one of the most successful R-rated movies of all time.

Edison Geiler, MWHS Wildcat News Editor-in-Chief

There has never been a comic book film quite so polarizing as director Todd Phillips’ “Joker”. Many have ripped its “sleazy” social commentary, yet the recognition of Phillips’ mastery of his craft still persists. These competing views have created an air of controversy the film certainly does not deserve. That’s not to say “Joker” should be dismissed as political garbage which doesn’t provoke thought, quite the contrary. But its inoffensive themes have no business causing the uproar that it has. Despite constant beratement from film critics, “Joker” is an intelligent look at an outcast spiraling toward madness that flexes an admirable dexterity in the art of filmmaking.

The film follows Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) struggle to fit in with society. Whether it be a failed stand-up career or navigating a relationship with Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beats), his neighbor down the hall, Fleck’s isolation from reality contributes to his ultimate destination of becoming the Joker. This journey is not for the faint of heart. Fleck commits some disgusting crimes throughout the runtime and is constantly rejected by the society around him in pretty gruesome ways. However, Phoenix’s performance is so encompassing that audiences cannot lose focus. Although Heath Ledger had much less screen time in his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Phoenix is arguably on par with the historic performance. He goes to so many acting extremes, only adding to how unpredictable Fleck can be. It’s truly anxiety-inducing when he is faced with horrific situations because the audience has no clue what he will do.

Courtesy of Insider
Phoenix’s latest performance has generated some award season buzz. He has gone to acting extremes to portray the Joker, which certainly pay off during the film. Although the screen time between the two isn’t comparable, Phoenix gives Ledger a run for his money for who is the definitive Joker.

That’s the beauty of the film.

Joker relies on unpredictability. Its plot goes in so many unexpected (yet not unnecessary) directions that no one can guess where it’s going during the first viewing. Pair that with Phoenix’s performance and the movie becomes a delightfully uncomfortable experience that audiences can’t pull their eyes away from. That is also in no small part from the contributions of Phillips. He flexes a mastery of filmmaking that truly makes Joker feel a notch above the standard superhero genre. Its shot compilation feels more down to earth, without large scale action scenes that last too long. There’s such an air of discomfort that some viewers will want the camera to be as far away from Fleck as possible. The cinematography is nothing innovative, but it’s gorgeous and perfectly matches the movie’s tone. It brings the audience along on Fleck’s journey and it’s not used just as a lens to view a story. As the film goes on, the shot compilation brings viewers into the mindset of our protagonist, leading to a conclusion that is so insane I was frozen in my seat.

The movie is also an incredibly refreshing experience, especially for DC Comics.

For the past few years, Warner Bros has been known to produce lackluster superhero movies, from the product placement-ridden Man of Steel to the unbearable Suicide Squad. Though not part of the DC Extended Universe, Joker dials down its premise from the world-ending, Zach Snyder-esque plots that plague the other movies, in favor of a gritty crime drama. Yes, Snyder products go for a darker edge, but Joker is able to achieve this without darkened lighting or huge action scenes. It’s really a testament to the writing this movie possesses. 

Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver expertly crafted a downfall of a man that was disadvantaged by the society around him. Though mental illness and drug use are present, it’s never glorified or used as a crutch to tell Fleck’s story. It’s not an easy task, yet both exceeded expectations. Joker isn’t afraid to explore sometimes uncomfortable themes such as the rich’s exploitation of the poor or society’s instinctive refusal to assist the mentally ill. They may not be right on target, but it’s admirable for them to tie this to what could have been an easy superhero story with no challenging themes. This movie should not be ripped apart the way it has been by media outlets for its glorification of mental illness or violence. It’s the story of a man dismissed by society, which ultimately leads to Fleck’s rejection of any positive outlook on life.

Joker, while may be a little thematically flawed, is still an intelligent film that is able to use a variety of tools to make its story and performances work. Phillips and Phoenix have outdone themselves with this film, and an Oscar may very well be on the way for the ladder with his incredible performance.

***** Stars