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During the 1980s, a failed stand-up comedian has driven insane and turned to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City while becoming an infamous psychopathic crime figure — The Joker.
At the beginning of the movie, Joaquin Phoenix, who played the role of “Joker” or Arthur Fleck, sat in front of a mirror and painted his face with white paint, hooks a finger into each corner of his mouth and pulls, depicting a somewhat “happy face”. Audiences were meant to think of the mask as being comical and/or tragic, and that over the next couple of hours, these two moods will be welded together, until audiences can’t tell the light from the dark.
Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire, and one of his jobs is to stand on the street in a red nose and a green wig, holding a promotional sign for a local store. He spends his days dealing with a neurological disorder (one which causes him to spontaneously laugh), caring for his mother Penny, trying to become a professional standup comedian, and struggling to get by unharmed on the mean streets of Gotham City. Fleck is also obsessed with a late-night talk show and host Murray Franklin and starts to develop feelings for his neighbor Sophie Dumond, a single mother who lives just down the hallway from his and Penny's apartment. But as lonely and cruel as Arthur's daily existence can be, he still manages to get by and hang onto the hope that tomorrow will be better. That is until one bad choice sends him down a dark path from which there may be no escape.
Over the course of Phillips’ film, Arthur’s mental state cascades as he struggles to maintain strong, supportive relationships, and finds himself at odds with numerous quasi-paternal figures, including revered talk show host Murray Franklin, who at once mocks Arthur’s lame stand-up routine and takes note of the perverse public interest in his eccentricity. You need to look at any other Joker movie to have an idea of where these various lit narrative fuses are headed. As the mentally ill and socially ignored Arthur, Phoenix burns a hole in the screen. From the opening moment when he cracks his mouth into an unnerving fake smile, the three-time Oscar nominee commands your attention. Minutes into the film, he suddenly flicks his eyes to meet the camera, and it's shiver-inducing. Arthur is a clown by day and a stand-up comic by night, but nobody's laughing in this brutal metropolis. In some versions of the comic book character's origins, the man who would be Joker fell into chemicals that bleached his skin and hair and twisted his mouth into the distinctive rictus. There's nothing so comic-book-schlocky in this version. Here, the city is the inescapable vat in which Arthur flails. Indifference is the goop in which he drowns. Cynicism and cruelty are the acids burning him to the bone.
Everyone in this movie is miserable and somehow troubled, everyone is trying to beat Arthur up. Philips' film, by contrast, doesn't seem to know what it's trying to prove. Yes, Arthur is disturbed and violent, but everybody else is cynical, mistrusting, and cruel. A social worker barely notices Arthur. A mother snaps at him when he tries to cheer up her kid. Even the two fatherlike figures, tycoon Thomas Wayne and chat show host, Murray Franklin, that Arthur obsessed over, turned out to be smug and superior. The rich are terrible and the people are even worse — a rabble of rioters, looters, and murderers who barely need an excuse to tip into savagery. Arthur’s profound alienation also arises from social inequality, the decline of civility, political corruption, television, government bureaucracy, and a slew of other causes. Rich people are awful. Poor people are awful. Joker’s embrace of radical evil becomes a kind of integrity.
Overall, the movie soars free of capes and other superhero nonsense, but it's hard to see the point being made when no heroic Batman is representing the other side of the coin. Joker is intense, unnerving, and a radical entry into the superhero genre. It isn’t any fun and it couldn't be taken seriously.
Nov 19, 2019
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