MOVIE REVIEW: The joke’s on Joker!

Most of us have seen Joker as a criminal mastermind, a psychopath, the lover of the iconic character of Harley Quinn, and, most especially, the archenemy of Batman. But what do you get when Batman and Harley Quinn are–literally–out of the picture? What do you get when The King of Comedy meets the clown prince of crime? You get Joaquin Phoenix (as Joker) in the mean streets of a vintage Martin Scorsese flick.

Directed, co-written, and produced by Todd Phillips, “Joker” has been making a name in the Hollywood industry as the original vision of the infamous DC villain, brought to life, infused with, but distinctly outside the character’s more traditional mythologies. On top of the beautiful cinematography and the Retro vibe clearly seen throughout the whole movie, is the in-depth story of Phoenix’s portrayal of Joker and the exploration of the inner mind of a Super Villain.

Set in the early 1980s, Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix), is a lone wolf that only seeks connection.

Yet, as he strides the streets of Gotham City and rides the graffitied mass transit rails of a hostile town full of division and dissatisfaction, he wears two masks: One he paints on for his day job as a clown and the other one he can never remove; it’s the façade he projects in an attempt to feel like he’s a part of the world and not the misunderstood man with a beat down life. Growing up without a father, Arthur has a fragile mother, arguably his best friend, who gave him the nickname “Happy,” a name that Arthur fostered in a smile that hides the heartache beneath. But everything changed when he is bullied by some rowdy teenagers on the streets, taunted by suits on the subway, and teased by his fellow clowns at work; this social outlier only becomes even more out of sync with everyone around him.

Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured city; he tries his best as a stand-up comic but the joke always seems to be on him. He is caught in between apathy, cruelty, and betrayal–he makes one bad decision after another that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this allegorical character study.

“Joker” gives the impression of peeking at what’s below the tip of the iceberg: Arthur is the guy you see on the street who you walk right past… or over, but what really is underneath?

I found the movie disturbingly beautiful; I got to see how Joker became “Joker” and how Phoenix lived the Joker’s rawness in this movie (let’s not forget his iconic laughter). Now I know why Phoenix received an eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice Premiere: he gave a tour de force performance, fearless and stunning in its emotional depth and physicality in this movie. Phoenix’s portrayal of “Joker” is indeed dark and disturbing–but isn’t a movie about the world’s most twisted-minded person bound to be dark and disturbing?

This movie is a sheer masterpiece: the exploration of a particular angle involving a man’s descent into madness is absolutely beautiful–it is somehow making the familiar strange once again as we only know Joker on what he is right now, rather than how he became what he is now. Joker is intense, unnerving, and full of clowns but not of clownery.

“Joker” premieres on October 3, 2019 in SM Cinema. Oh, and make sure to grab your clown masks because the joke’s on you.


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