‘Joker’: Not a laughing matter

Kevin Clyde Tate

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Kevin Clyde Tate

The Joker stands nonchalantly amongst chaos in the film’s promotional poster.

After months and months of hype and anticipation, the dramatic thriller “Joker” was finally released on Oct. 4, 2019 dominating the box office with a $93.5 million opening.

Growing up, one of the most enigmatic individuals within the realm of comic book characters was the Joker. My first encounter with “The Clown Prince of Crime” was at the age of seven, crying in the car after seeing the menacing man with a bloodied smile in an advertisement for “The Dark Knight.” The initial fear subsided as I grew older; I became extremely interested in the mysterious past of Batman’s arch-nemesis. 

Going into this movie I was slightly uncertain if this would correctly capture the Joker. This doubt was quickly removed within the opening scenes, which capitalized director Todd Phillips’s direction with this gritty characterization. This is also echoed through the film’s visually stunning cinematography in its unique camera work and appropriately dulled color palette.

The film’s strength lies in the hands of Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar performance as Arthur Fleck (the Joker). Experiencing this backstory of the Joker through such a tortured perspective requires a strong and convincing actor. Phoenix delivers as the ultra-violent anarchist, but also establishes  Arthur as a more grounded character, bringing humanity to someone who eventually represents the opposite.

This complex characterization also plays into the film’s score which was composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir. The dissonant and bone-chilling music of the film supports the delusion of the Joker. It brings the audience closer to Arthur’s downward spiral, forcing a feeling of discomfort time and time again. 

“Joker” is definitely not a movie for the faint-hearted. No one particularly goes to the movies to feel uncomfortable, but in this context, it brings light to the harsh realities of dealing with mental illness in a society that could care less about it. Emphasizing uneasiness creates a unique experience for moviegoers, and adds an unpredictable aspect to the film.

My only issue with this film is the pacing of the narrative. The first act definitely drags as the exposition is established, but it quickly picks up as you get more accustomed to the attention to detail of Phillips’s directing and Phoenix’s performance.

The latest iteration of the Joker provides the most depth we have ever seen for this character. Those expecting the Joker to wreak havoc among Gotham will be disappointed because this film is purely a character study. It is a close dissection which slowly develops an underlying commentary on the issues of mental illness and classism.

Overwhelming hype and controversy regarding the film have flooded social media recently, and I believe that this abundance of attention has occurred for the wrong reasons. I feel that although this movie does not move to the satisfaction of the average viewer, “Joker” makes up for it in its aesthetics of sight and sound and Phoenix’s undeniably brilliant performance. My final rating of “Joker” is 8.5/10.