In a culture where comic book heroes dominate the movie industry, “Joker” takes a necessary and discomforting left turn from the common comic book trope.
Director Todd Phillips’s film follows the origin story of misunderstood aspiring comedian and working clown Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), showing his process of turning from a down-on-his-luck street performer into a murderer.
Instead of having a film that’s up to the brim with non-stop action, witty banter and a happy ending – in other words, the average Marvel film – “Joker” offers a more realistic dark world. It’s a world where every-day actions could affect someone’s life, making their day progressively worse and worse.
Fleck suffers from a neurological disorder causing him to laugh uncontrollably. When not working as a clown, he cares for his mentally and physically ill mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). Fleck also fantasizes about performing standup comedy on Murray Franklin’s (Robert De Niro) talk show.
In crime-ridden Gotham city, garbage bags are piling up, social services are being cut for those who need them, and the rich turn a blind eye to everything going on. Gotham’s chaotic ruin continues to emphasize how gritty and brutal society can be. In addition, Fleck’s character shows us that, while having empathy for him is difficult, one must help those in need before their situation worsens.
Fleck’s descent into insanity begins when several teenagers assault him while he’s on the job. Later, after losing his job, he is again assaulted, this time by three employees of Wayne Enterprises — a fictional multinational company. Fleck kills them in self-defense, and his world falls out from under him, rebuilding itself in a more sinister way.
“Joker” pays homage to the 1982 movie “The King of Comedy,” where Robert De Niro played Rubert Pupkin, is a man obsessed with a Johnny Carson-like talk show host. When the film ends, Fleck wishes to be introduced on the talk show as “The Joker,” just as De Niro’s character at the end of the film wishes to be introduced as “The King of Comedy.”
“Joker” is a character study of Fleck, but what the film lacks is the standard Batman, battling it out with his arch nemesis. Perhaps this is a good thing. This film represents the real world, a world where there are no supernatural beings pushing people over the edge. Fleck is a seemingly normal person whose day gets worse and worse.
This film provides a genuine depiction of someone suffering from a mental illness in a world where those less privileged are neglected, suggesting that the breaking point that create “Joker” could have been avoided.
The soundtrack is a split between classic Frank Sinatra songs and an increasing cello booming throughout the film. This break in music echoes Fleck’s view on society. Part of him believes in the Sinatra outlook on life, the normalcy of it all, and putting on a smile to mask his emotions. The cello demonstrates Fleck’s broad range of emotions and his unpredictability. When the cello is played, something dark and twisted is about to happen.
“Joker,” rated R, is playing in theaters nationwide.
Mitchell Deligio is a student a Loyola University Chicago, and a mentor at RogersEdgeReporter.com