KARACHI: If you’re looking for a fast-paced superhero thriller, where Batman swoops in to save the day, you won’t find it in Joker (2019).
What you will find in the Todd Phillips directorial is a fascinating character study of how circumstances shape a person’s thoughts and actions.
Joaquin Phoenix brilliantly portrays DC Comics’ iconic narcissistic psychopath in a totally different light. Joker, is a standalone the origin story of Batman antagonist Joker aka Arthur Fleck and his descent into madness.
In an irony everyone is already aware of, Joker isn’t funny; he is painfully awkward. The kind of person everyone tries to stay as far away from as possible because of his ability to make them extremely uncomfortable. Phoenix delivers a tragic and melancholic performance, which goes beyond simply impersonating. When he says that he feels invisible, we believe him. His performance was method acting at its best. (The actor lost 52 pounds to portray the Joker).
The film is set in 1981 Gotham City, struggling with rising levels of crime and unemployment. The film briefly touches upon the correlation between the two: as the disparity between the rich and poor increases, so does crime. But the film is largely about mental illness, and its negligence.
In this dark and grim city, Arthur is seen as a struggling stand-up comedian and social reject who suffers from a neurological disorder, causing him to laugh out loud in inappropriate situations. He lives with his mother, depends on social workers for medication, is routinely bullied and is struggling to make ends meet. What we see is a man trying really hard to cope but is driven to the point of madness and loses all sense of empathy for others. After years of pain and struggle, he reaches his tipping point and what follows is a long trail of violence and murder, and the birth of what we have come to know (and fear) as Joker.
The movie has been receiving some criticism for empathising with a vicious criminal, with some believing it could even incite violence. In fact, cinemas across the US have gone as far as beefing up their security. The concern isn’t unfounded. In 2012, a young man in the US, dressed similar to the character of Joker, opened fire at a cinema which was screening The Dark Knight Rises.
However, the film is less about feeling sorry for the monster and more about how the monster was created, and if it could be prevented. Ignoring mental illness and a lack of empathy for mental health sufferers can have devastating consequences. If we can understand what makes someone tip over the edge, then perhaps we can prevent it from happening.
Joker is a beautiful reinvention of an already beloved and complicated character. As much as Phoenix is being showered with praise, Phillips also deserves credit for his take on the classic story. He picked only a few details from the original comic and was more influenced from Martin Scorsese’s antihero classic Taxi Driver. Phillips lets you really experience the ever-present danger in the grim Gotham that he has created.
Our recommendation? Go watch it ASAP. Even if you hate it, it is unlikely that you will forget it.