No laughing matter

Photo Source: Warner Bros.

Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ starring Joaquin Phoenix premiered amid tense controversy and buzz. Before the movie was even released, there were concerns that the movie could resonate with and even inspire ‘incels’ and other outcasts of society to commit heinous acts of violence and terror.
The movie comes off the back of a series of mass shootings and violence in America, so it’s understandable why some might be worried that this movie could unintentionally cause more violence. Furthermore, there have been reports that increased security and undercover police officers have been dispatched to select theaters and showings in case of a possible attack.

This hysteria of certain media such as movies or video games causing violence is nothing new and ‘Joker’ is just another example of that.
Regardless of the validity of these concerns and the potential impacts of this film, ‘Joker’ has been released and it is easily one of the best films of the year and one of the best comic book movies of all time. The film follows Arthur Fleck, rentable clown and failed comedian, as he struggles to live in filthy, crime-infested, 1980’s Gotham City. He is pushed over the edge into the realm of insanity and violence to become the Joker. Director Todd Phillips, whose previous works include the ‘Hangover’ franchise and ‘A Star is Born’, and actor Joaquin Phoenix, who has also starred in ‘Signs’ and ‘Her’, combine their talents to create a beautifully shot, dark, and thrilling character drama.

First and foremost, Joaquin Phoenix absolutely nails this role and delivers an incredible performance that has many claiming him as the best incarnation of the popular DC Comics character. Phoenix has three Academy Award nominations under his belt and can expect to garner another Oscar nomination, if not a win, for his performance. Joaquin Phoenix portrays Arthur Fleck in a way that makes you sympathize and feel bad for his character while also being deeply unsettled and downright terrified of him. Arthur Fleck’s downward spiral into madness is fully realized and fleshed out by Phoenix such so that it is scarily realistic and believable. Joker’s iconic laugh is explained as a neurological condition Arthur suffers which causes uncontrollable laughter, often at the most inopportune moments. These inconvenient bursts of laughter lead to more hardships for Arthur and further worsen his already miserable life. The movie makes profound statements and offers insight into mental illnesses and the way we treat each other because of them. The portrayals and events of ‘Joker’ could spark discussions around mental health, human psychology, class inequality, and other important and often neglected topics. The film leads you to believe that the Joker could live among us and is created by the collective actions of our society.

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This movie is engrossing to watch. Todd Phillips and cinematographer Lawrence Sher somehow manage to make a dirty and drabby Gotham City pleasing to look at with fantastic symmetry, interesting camera angles, and clever color contrast. The film is shot in a way that gives you a look into Arthur Fleck’s life and greatly assists in sucking you into this world and believing every second on-screen. It may be perceived as slow at times, but the way the movie is presented makes the world intriguing and thought-provoking until it shocks you with a shot of adrenaline in the form of a truly intense and surprising act of violence. Without getting into spoilers, ‘Joker’ keeps you guessing and pondering what is real and what is not. This gives you the experience of a psychotic and delusional maniac like Joker himself. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the score of ‘Joker’ that is extremely simple, yet effective in its goal of creating tension and unease.

Just like the movie as a whole, the humor is dark and twisted. The language and visual gags deliver scenes that are funny in a messed up way, exactly what you’d expect from the Joker.

Perhaps the largest criticism of ‘Joker’ is that it borrows too heavily from other films, specifically Martin Scorcese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘The King of Comedy’, both starring Robert De Niro. It is true that ‘Joker’ takes much inspiration from and has plenty of homages to other films, all films do, but it is irrelevant to those who have not watched those movies; many considering the fact that the two mentioned Scorcese films came out decades ago.

Despite its controversy and R-rating, ‘Joker’ opened with a record-breaking $93.5 million for the month of October in its domestic opening weekend, breaking last year’s record of $80 million held by Sony’s ‘Venom’. Worldwide, the movie achieved an opening release of $248 million, the largest for Warner Bros. so far this year.

Speaking of Robert De Niro, he is also in this movie and plays late-night talk show host and comedian Murray Franklin, whom Arthur Fleck looks up to and regularly watches with his mother Penny Fleck, played by Frances Conroy. Both act as a great supporting cast, along with others, that play their roles convincingly enough to further enhance the world of ‘Joker’. Overall, ‘Joker’ is a near-perfect masterpiece that dishes out bold statements on societal issues and is full of countless iconic quotes. It forces you to ask yourself tough questions and makes you think, unlike many of the mindless movies out today. From remarkable performances, outstanding cinematography, and profound, thought-provoking themes, this is a movie that demands to be seen in 2019 and will go down as one of the year’s best pieces of cinema. I found myself wanting to re-watch it five minutes after leaving the theater and it prompted an interesting discussion between myself and my friend who watched it with me.

By Brandon Padilla, Culture Editor