Watch the Trailer
The year is 1981. Cellphones are not a glued to everyone’s hand because they didn’t exist until 1983. The location is Gotham City. The two main characters of interest is Arthur Speck (Joaquin Phoenix) and his mother, Penny Speck (Frances Conroy). Arthur helps support his mother by working for a company that specializes in hiring clowns for a fee. He is in charge of advertisement, as well as being one of the clowns. He find moderate success as a clown until his condition which makes him laugh uncontrollably and quite annoying to those around him overwhelms him. He finds comfort in watching Murray Franklin host his own talk show with his mother. To pass the time, he fantasizes about a better life amidst the high unemployment and poverty rate. His mother has her plan to get out of their run down apartment and he has his through his comedic acts. His ambition doesn’t match his talent on his first attempt, but he keeps moving forward despite certain parts of his life moving backwards. It leads a changed mental state and is put into a situation that is the catalyst for his transition to “the Joker.” As many in Gotham City condemns the lawlessness including Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), there are others who support this vigilante justice. As Arthur tries to piece together his childhood, he finds answers in the mental hospital called Arkham he once stayed as a patient. He gets additional answers from Thomas Wayne and gets the recognition he has longed for since he was old enough to say a bad joke. After practicing his routine for the show, he begins his transformation into “the Joker.” On the way to the studio, Arthur is greeted by Gotham citizens dressed as clowns with similar facial makeup as he wore when he worked at Haha’s and thumbs this nose at the police who try to control the restless citizens. Arthur wows the studio audience. His message only increases support among the citizens and they band together to honor and protect him. He has finally been recognized and that is enough to last him a lifetime.
Wide, Deep, and High
I mentioned before the cinematography in this movie is insanely well executed. The first shot that caught my attention by Lawrence Sher was of Arthur in Arkham that begins when he is talking to the worker in charge of client records. The second is the shot of Arthur on the stairs in full Joker costume and make up. The third is the shot of Arthur on the car. The strength of the scenes also involves the relationships between the characters (loving, awkward, and sinister), the feeling of authenticity in the dialogue, and the production design is seeped in a mishmash of colors from Arthur’s clothes to the curtains on the Murray Franklin show. Besides trash littering Gotham sidewalks and streets, Mark Friedberg is able to turn NYC into Gotham without appearing overdone in terms of the production design. The transition of Arthur Fleck into “the Joker” is something I enjoyed watching, as well as Robert De Niro as the cocky Murry Franklin.
Comparing the Jokers
I would put Joaquin Phoenix in front of Jack Nicholson because I prefer a less cartoon looking Joker. He also showed the “pre-Joker” having somewhat of a conscience before he completely turned into him. Based on the previous sentence, I gravitate less to a comic book movie and more of a character study of a few comic book characters if given the choice. Joaquin Phoenix’s laugh was the best because at first it was due to his physical disorder, then it turned into genuine laughter, and by the end of the movie he was able to control it (probably due to the drugs). The reason I put Heath Ledger in front of Jack Nicholson although they are very close together is because he played a self injurious psychopath that was not in the least bit charming and was a great nemesis to Gotham City. He was more of a Joker that played mind games instead of carrying Joker cards in his pocket. It is clear Heath Ledger as “the Joker” thought of the citizens of Gotham as mice, exterminating as many as possible in one bang, and that was his greatest gift to the audience. Jack Nicholson comes in at third, but his version is basically on the same level as Heath Ledger. While it was more cartoon like, his version was a nod to the lowly criminal who rises up the ranks to rule the underworld, which I enjoyed. Jared Leto comes in last. While I did not think his performance was bad as “the Joker,” it was least nuanced and memorable. I listened to the laughs out of the four and I ranked them the same way: Phoenix, Ledger, Nicholson, and Leto. The bottom line is where many preferred the mysteriousness of “the Joker” in The Dark Knight, I preferred the one with one foot in realism and the other foot in fantasy.
Watching a troubled introvert with social anxiety break out out of his shell and become someone else and not necessarily better, but different is why I recommend Joker for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance alone. The various subject matter highlighted throughout the movie was not preachy but present. Mental illness, different social classes, and poverty exists in Gotham as it does in every country in the world. If it was too realistic and serious for some viewers, so be it. This is what I liked about it. For better or worse, Joker commented on issues such as mob violence, personal delusion, and blaming others. If you don’t care for Joaquin Phoenix as an actor, then probably this movie isn’t for you. This movie is not for kids nor it is for comic book or superhero fanatics looking for a great fight against good and evil as found in any of the Batman movies. While a few scenes were graphic in violence and blood, let’s face facts, none of “the Joker” portrayals over the years is “good.” The Joker character whether played with nuance or not so much is still an antisocial freak of nature who doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself and the chaos he inflicts on others. We shouldn’t be remotely interested in this type of killer, but on a movie theater screen he’s sure a delight to watch especially when he dances.
Pisaries Creator’s Rating
I rate Joker Four Fingers and One Thumb of Near Perfect at 97%.