‘Joker’ raises the bar

Todd Phillips tackles society’s mental health issues in gritty villain origin story


Special To / The Advocate

Joaquin Phoenix portrays the Arthur Fleck, the Joker, in the new film ‘Joker’ directed by Todd Phillips

By Luis Lopez , News Editor

Todd Phillips has directed and co-written the greatest comic book-based movie ever made with “Joker” because in this film there is an actual attachment to the character that other comic book movies have lacked.

Where other movies are focused on keeping fans of the source content happy, this film focuses on creating an authentic character that derives emotion from audiences. Theater-goers agreed and made the first “R” rated Batman movie October’s highest grossing movie of all time.

The film is an original take on the origin story of DC Comics’ character The Joker, taking place in 1981 and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the disturbed clown.

The film is a character study, which unfolds into a psychological thriller that will keep audiences hooked on the character’s journey while feeling uncomfortable through every moment of it.

No other film to date manages to capture the darkness that engulfs the psychological mind of a comic book character quite like this one.

This movie shows the creation of DC’s most iconic villain through a gritty real-life cinematic experience that can best be described as a combination of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and his film “The King of Comedy.”

Over the course of the movie, viewers are treated to one of the decade’s greatest character arcs. Phoenix does an excellent job portraying the evolution of a mentally ill person into a deranged and psychotic villain.

This movie, unlike any other comic book-based movie in the last 10 years, actually has substance and depth to the story and characters, both of which are driven home by phenomenal acting. The pace of the movie is perfect. It is best described as a minute hand on a clock slowly revolving. By the second and third phases of the film, viewers will be questioning what is real and what is not — just like the lead character.

The sharp contrast between realism and questioning reality makes the film a thrill for the senses. Gorgeous shots paired with one of the year’s best acting performances make “Joker” a must-see.

The film focuses on aspiring stand-up comedian and party clown Arthur Fleck, who lives in the crime-ridden city of Gotham and suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times.

Realism sets the movie apart from other comic-based movies, making it obvious that the character is a mentally unstable member of society that isn’t too far off from our reality. Phoenix delivers his greatest performance to date, making viewers sympathize with Fleck’s (Joker) vulnerability.

Life continues to get worse for Fleck as he is mugged and loses his job, and access, to his social worker. Showing what can happen when the mentally ill go untreated, the film examines the free fall into darkness for our character.

He is soon filled with dark thoughts that only get worse and worse, until he begins acting on those thoughts.

These dark and painful circumstances drive the lead character to transition into the villain known as Joker. The realistic nature of the movie makes the death and violence that much more significant. It also makes it eerily clear that Joker is potentially no different from any other untreated mentally unstable person in our society.

It’s hard not to feel bad for a person showing signs of wanting a happy and good life but receiving nothing but pain, grief and hate.

The prey becomes the predator in the second act of the film when Joker gives in to his psychotic thoughts — despite trying so hard to keep it together and fit into society.

The failure of his status in society drives him to an all too familiar scenario of plotting a shooting. There is so much more to the movie that can be interpreted by watching, however, there is no doubt it will be a classic.

To contextualize Phillips’ “Joker” into contemporary mental health issues in society with any negative connotation essentially robs the movie of achieving its full potential.

The movie shares the same archetype with “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” drawing similarities down to Scorsese being one of the film’s original producers.

The thing that those movies have in common with “Joker” is they all focus on disenfranchised people who live on the fringes of society.

Ultimately, Joker snaps and goes beyond the point of no return by committing a violent act.

For classic film goers, this is no different from any other movie in terms of violence. In contrast, new film watchers seem to have created controversy over the film’s violent themes. Most importantly, there is no other comic-based film with this amount of authenticity and depth. The character development in the movie is like nothing ever done in a superhero film.

Warner Bros should take note and create its superhero films with this classic look as it adds class to its movies and a sense of nostalgia. DC should play to its strengths if it hopes to have a chance against Disney’s big-budgeted Marvel blockbusters.