Put on a happy face
Put on a happy face

JOKER (15)

D: Todd Phillips

Warner Bros/Village Roadshow/DC (Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper & Emma Tillinger Koskoff)

US 2019

122 mins


W: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver [based on characters from DC Comics]

DP: Lawrence Sher

Ed: Jeff Groth

Mus: Hildur Gudnadóttir

PD: Mark Friedberg

Cos: Mark Bridges

Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck / Joker), Robert DeNiro (Murray Franklin), Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumont), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne)

"Some people just want to watch the world burn" - a line delivered in The Dark Knight, in which Heath Ledger iconically portrayed the Joker.  

Though this 2019 crime thriller features the same character, it's a completely standalone movie which pays reference to and has inspiration from the Batman series of films, without being part of the cinematic or comic-book canon. 

The film was released to much controversy for its nihilistic violence and bleak social commentary, but I really wonder what movie the people who complained were expecting... after all, the subject of the film is one of the biggest villains in popular culture.

Joaquin Phoenix perfectly portrays Arthur Fleck, a troubled loner with a mental health condition where his pathological laughter hinders the way he communicates with people and society. Aspiring to be a comedian, he idolises a glib, self-aggrandising TV funnyman and talk show host Murray Franklin (portrayed by Robert DeNiro, in an obvious reference to Martin Scorsese's 1983 black comedy, The King Of Comedy), but he struggles to make a breakthrough working as a advertisement sign-twirler while caked in clown makeup.

In an act of Bernie Goetz style self-defence, Arthur shoots three yuppie scumbags on a subway and his clown persona inspires a vigilante cult movement. Struggling with his ambitions as well as domestic issues, personal relationships and his own identity, his metamorphosis into Gotham City's infamous antagonist begins.

It's a film with many references to 1970's cinema, particularly Taxi Driver which it apes a little too closely, but there are also visual references to other classics of the decade such as The French Connection, The Exorcist and Death Wish, which, as a fan of 1970's cinema I caught quite easily and really appreciated. 

I also really appreciate films which result in discourse and debate, which this will definitely provide in spades, where you have to read between the lines and pay attention to the mis-en-scene in the background and the foreground as the origin story unfolds.

It's fair to say that Joker came out at exactly the right time, when social media virtue-signallers and cancel culture enthusiasts want to censor anything and everything that offends them, rather than discussing and examining further. It just makes the movie's message that "society creates its own problems" even more accurate, especially when you consider the press backlash, who believed that the film would inspire real-life violent crime over its opening weekend simply because that shit sells newspapers. It also quite boldly portrays billionaire philanthropist Thomas Wayne as a man who says all the right things when in the public eye, but behind closed doors is really just a selfish man with only his own interests in mind.

The film also highlights how easily mob mentality can become a violent movement and how subjective comedy can be, and probably should be. To reference another film from the 1970's (A Clockwork Orange); when you take away freedom of expression, you make people less than human.

For those who are easily offended, I simply have three words for you: Don't watch this. 

For me, this is the amongst the best films of 2019, with a delicious irony which just won't be for everyone's taste. My biggest criticism is that its references and inspirations are far too on-the-nose.


Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker