'Joker' Review: Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is a Hauntingly Beautiful Performance
Thursday, October 03, 2019 10:11 IST
By Shaurya Thakur, Santa Banta News Network
"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?"

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais, Shea Whigham

Director: Todd Philips

Rating: ****1/2

The concept of conformity in itself is more lethal than a rabid dog bite. If you fit in, you are good to go. If not, society will call you crazy and throw stones at you. This perpetuates your confusion of being different and misunderstood, and slowly you find yourself on the sidelines. This sense of isolation is deeply disturbing, resulting in the risk of triggering madness inside your head.

The notorious anti-hero `Joker` is born out of this failure to adhere to certain societal standards. Movies have presented Batman as a righteous caped crusader who hunts monsters to make amends with his inner demons. But demons don't appear out of a void, they have their own stories. They are just as much people as the angels, only on the wrong side of the line. Todd Philips and Scott Silver, along with Phoenix at the peak of his powers, set the record straight for those are misunderstood and have no agency to express.

It is 1981, and Gotham is a city steaming with rage and corruption. You know how it goes, rich getting rich off the blood and sweat of working-class people. The movie throws us right into Arthur's life, as we see him practicing his game face. But soon, the stark beauty of his face vanishes, and you can tell something isn't right with this guy. Arthur Fleck is a sad clown with a peal of bloodcurdling laughter. The guy is trying to live his life- he works, gets picked on by kids and adults, looks after his mother and fantasizes about living a better life. A creature of the night, he doodles and jots in his journal, an outlet for his most disturbing fantasies. He also dabbles in this journal as a joke diary, but when you see what is on it all the applause and the laughter stops.

Like most of us, he's hiding what he truly is; only he can no longer go on with the facade of normalcy. He constantly gets pushed over and berated by people, even his mother. So has no option but to seek the shelter of his imagination. His guidance counselor is nothing but a bureaucrat to him, putting him off with her administrative responses. While he tries to hold on to the final shreds of his sanity, Thomas Wayne tries to present himself as an ideal mayoral candidate. Both their worlds collide soon, as Arthur learns more of his sordid past.  And on one bad, very bad day, he sees himself way past the point of no return and finally takes off the mask that had made breathing such a nightmare for him. It is when he finally soars and sets off a fire no one can extinguish.

`Joker` is the most realistic comic book adaptation since Nolan's `The Dark Knight,` taking you right back to the 1970s and 80s; evoking Scorsese's dark and dingy vision of New York.  It is nihilistically brutal and unflinchingly gory, fully capitalizing on its R rating. True, Philips has been a director of commercial comedies, but there's always been a bit of dark side to his humor, be it `War Dogs` or `The Hangover Trilogy.` Philips, like Phoenix, comes unhinged and goes to town with his new genre sandbox. He makes a fascinating character study with elements of sheer horror, slasher and noir film.

Philips channels `Taxi Driver` and `King of Comedy` greatly to efficiently blend familiar and unfamiliar myths of the Gotham city, rightfully eliciting moments of surprises and gasps. He also uses these influences upon other issues as `Joker` is also an honest and observational look at poverty, squalor and mental illness. It is also unsentimental, with a high detachment for society; showing its malevolence towards eccentric behavior. It unapologetically questions the legacy of the Wayne family and the God complex that seems to run forever in the family, bringing to notice how people are wolves dressed in the clothing of the sheep.

Joaquin Phoenix, what could you say about him that hasn't been possibly said? With Daniel Day-Lewis retired, this movie proves why he's the greatest living actor today. Phoenix is mortifyingly brilliant in the skin of the person who inrushes into darkness. Whether he tries his damndest to make people happy or angrily press a cigarette against a wall or shows an inclination for other morbid tendencies, you can never take your eyes off him. When he's there on the screen everything pales in comparison, even a legend like Robert De Niro. It can never go unnoticed how Phoenix also brings his inner turmoil and emotional energy to everything he does, and here too delivers a performance so good it makes your skin crawl and blood turn cold; as he grabs you by the throat right from the very first time he appears on the screen.

`Joker` is also a plain wake-up call of how our indifference can come back to bite us in the behind. Look around you, be nice to your fellow beings; for times are hard and it doesn't take that much to be kind and help someone along the way.
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