For fans of DC comics, a film centering around the origin story of the universe’s most infamous villain has garnered mixed reactions. “Joker” was released earlier this October, and the controversies surrounding the film have attracted the attention of not just comic book fans, but also those who want to discuss the movie’s social implications.
“Joker” focuses on the character Arthur Fleck, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, a young man struggling with mental illness and poverty, whose life from anyone’s perspective could be deemed a tragedy. The film chronicles Arthur’s dark descent into the wild-card of a villain, the Joker, the famous arch-nemesis of Batman. Arthur Fleck is an aspiring stand-up comedian who works as a part-time party clown, hired for anything from store advertising to visits to children’s hospitals. When Arthur is assaulted at the beginning of the film, he feels unwanted and unloved more than ever, and wants his message about the oppressive system heard.
The tension brews from the very beginning of the film, due to Gotham’s extreme amounts of crime and poverty. Throughout the film, audiences will feel apprehensive, never knowing what Arthur will do next. Music was used excellently to capture Arthur’s feelings at any given moment, and the film’s soundtrack is one to remember. The movie’s cinematography also played a role in audience perception, and the color schemes and camerawork gave the film an eery aura.
One major aspect of the film that has left audiences conflicted was its view of violence and social movements. There is no doubt that Joker gets gritty, violent and even controversial at times. Some fans and critics have suggested that the film will incite violence in viewers, and are questioning if this film and others like it should tell the stories they do. Regardless of these notions, a film about the Joker would not have been well-executed without violence, as it is integral to his character and the plot.
The movie, albeit fictional, deals with heavy topics and themes throughout in order to help justify and humanize Arthur Fleck. Arthur suffers from multiple mental illnesses throughout the movie, even developing an uncontrollable laugh that becomes symbolic of Joker in previous iterations of the character. Due to Gotham’s underfunding in some areas, he is left untreated and ignored by the system and strives to make his voice heard, no matter how violent it gets. The movie brings up questions about how society treats people who are mentally ill, and whether or not the actions and attitudes of Arthur and others like him are justified in the end.
From the beginning of the movie’s production, and the casting of Joaquin Phoenix was announced, many fans were quick to want to compare Phoenix to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker, perhaps one of the most famous depictions of any character to date. Phoenix and the film did an excellent job of giving audiences a new view of this notorious villain. The beauty of a film like this is that Joker has never had a definitive origin story, and his crazed antics were never easily explained in any comic book or movie of the past. With Phoenix’s performance was both intriguing and uncomfortable, and invited audiences to desperately anticipate the character’s next move.
No matter how critics and fans feel, Joker definitely sparked conversation with its release, particularly related to how audiences might empathize with the character. Directed by Todd Phillips, the film was well-crafted, and the audience will leave the theater wondering if what they observed was real or merely a fantasy, in tune with a complex character like the Joker. The movie ended up providing what it said it would and gave viewers the narrative it intended. Filled with comic book easter eggs, the movie is really for fans who have always wanted an origin story for the legendary character, but the story is told in a way where those unfamiliar with the DC universe will still be able to enjoy the movie.