Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
Directed by Todd Phillips Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
‘Joker’ makes it explicitly clear that this isn’t your typical superhero film, and in fact I believe that Todd Phillips made use of such a status when approaching many of the story’s key themes. In the last decade, superhero films have come to dominate Hollywood, but by many they are still perceived as work that serve as entertainment only, and lack any serious or noteworthy issues. Well, if there was ever such a film that should be taken seriously, it’s ‘Joker’.
The atmosphere of this film is simply intoxicating. Aesthetically, not a single scene strays from the compositional or artistic style that surrounds the Joker. His iconic vibrant colours are physically embodied throughout scenes within the costume design, location choices and lighting, to convey the descent into madness that Arthur Fleck experiences. But I believe that the pinnacle of ‘Joker’ is found within the music. Created in the capable hands of Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl, Arrival), the score that accompanies this movie is one of claustrophobic beauty. The emotion of every scene is reflected flawlessly, and as the Joker strays ever further from a healthy conscience, the score travels with him. From the barren ambience that observes the conversation between Arthur Fleck and a young Bruce Wayne, to the almost-overbearing dynamic formed in Penny’s hospital admittance, the score of ‘Joker’ tells a story of a truly broken mind.
Consistently throughout the film, there are relevant issues to today found, but the ones that appear most prevalent are the status of the wealthy and approaches to mental illness. Phillips makes a point of tackling these issues, and uses specific archetypal figures when approaching the divide of wealth. Arthur Fleck – whether purposefully or not – becomes the catalyst for riots which seek to bring down those in power, and at the face of this wealth, Thomas Wayne. We begin to see Batman’s own parents as the villains of the story, and the Joker – perhaps the most famous villain in fiction – as the protagonist. Capturing a universal understanding that viewers will have of the Wayne family’s morality, the film uses this intertextuality to create empathy between the spectator and Fleck. Entirely relevant to our lives, it is clear that those with money are those who control our world. I believe that in ‘Joker,’ Phillips is attempting to show the true relationships between the rich and the poor, and nothing makes this clearer than the interaction between Fleck and the glamorous TV show host, Murray Franklin (De Niro). In much the same way as Wayne, Franklin has power over their society through his status as a celebrity. But when Fleck finally meets the person he has looked up to for many years, his issues are not cared for, and his declining mental health is exploited. The divide between these two characters grows further apart, and the Joker himself says, “People are starting to notice,” but it is not for the reasons he wishes. The joke may be funny, but the audience are laughing at him, rather than with him.
It’s always difficult to talk about the flaws of a work which is so visually and audibly impressive. The performances are undeniably brilliant. Phoenix must win the Oscar, and De Niro presents his character as a perfect supporting role. Zazie Beetz’s portrayal as the ‘girl-next-door’ is subtle and heart-warming, despite the twisted neighbourhood she finds herself in. However, there are some elements of the story that I feel let the other aspects of the film down. Though the themes of the story are well-presented, on occasion the actual dialogue felt lacking. The film’s final act is incredible, but before then the story would often jump around in a manner that made the events in respective scenes become forgettable, and almost irrelevant in comparison to later elements of the story. Perhaps the implementation of a longer, conversationally-driven scene would have really benefitted the pacing of the story. Many people have drawn comparisons between the works of Scorsese and ‘Joker,’ and maybe something similar to the iconic ‘Goodfellas’ long-take could have brought a true grounding to the film’s direction within the opening act. Furthermore, the final moments of the film provide an ambiguity that I felt lessened the impacts of the story’s closing message. The show appears to be wrapping up, and the final act comes to a conclusion, until an idea of ambiguity is introduced that doesn’t appear to add anything but further questions in an already-thematically packed film.
To conclude, go and see ‘Joker,’ immerse yourself in the film and take in the messages that it presents to you. For the rest of the year, this will be the film which fuels conversations all across the world. And as Halloween rolls around, don’t be surprised if you open the door to any red-suited, clown-painted, flower-bearing trick-or-treaters!