Pic credit: Imax.com / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
You must be wondering, why am I reviewing a movie, which released a month back and has a million reviews, already in the market?
Well, there are 2 reasons for it –
- I only managed to see the “Joker” in the theater last weekend and,
- I will not be able to get any sleep, until I manage to share my experience of watching it.
It was that good and compelling!
Before I start, let me tell you, that I am not a movie critic, nor do I have any significant experience of reviewing movies. But I am an admirer of good cinema and whenever I get to see some good work, I feel compelled to talk about it.
Disclaimer: I will try my best to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, because my intention is to reach out to those who have not yet seen the film and are contemplating watching it this week. But that said there might be some spoilers ahead.
The Story and Characterization:
In the Dark Knight (2008), Michael Caine’s character Alfred, recalls an anecdote from his life, which he narrates to Bruce Wayne (Batman). He does so, because Bruce (Christian Bale) is unable to comprehend, why the Joker behaves the way he does? Alfred tells Bruce, that he may have failed to understand the Joker and substantiates his point, by recalling a certain incident from his past and says, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money. They cannot be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn”.
Pic credit: knowyourmeme.com / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
In one of the ending scenes of Joker (2019) post the climax (spoiler alert) – Arthur Fleck (Joker) is arrested and is in a police van. The policeman, driving the van, points out the anarchy that is unfolding on the streets and blames him for it. Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) responds by saying, “It’s beautiful. Isn’t it?”, while subtly paying tribute to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker (watch the movie to get this point).
But this is where, the similarities between the two movies end. What I am trying to get at, is that, the Joker is not your typical DC movie. It’s anything but that. This is a dark character study, into the mind of one of the most iconic villains in Hollywood history, told through a riveting and intelligently written origin story. In many ways, it is a slow burn, but ironically it keeps you at the edge of your seat, cringing at one moment and despairing in another. You are left to marvel, at the sheer brilliance, with which the arc of this character, has been portrayed on screen.
Let me warn you that the “Joker” is a difficult watch. It is entertaining, but this is a different kind of entertainment. It is dark and it will take you to a dark space, whether you like it or not! It also compels you to have conversations with your dark side. I felt this on multiple occasions, while watching the movie.
Pic credit: dailymail.co.uk / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
It’s the tale of a man, desperately trying to make ends meet, but fails miserably each time. He is constantly shunned, abused, unappreciated and discriminated, which leads to his gradual disintegration, thereby transforming him to an unrecognizable self. During this transition the film becomes dark and violent and some of the scenes can be disturbing to watch.
Some critiques have said that, the writers might have unconsciously justified the violence, given the nature of the screenplay. But this argument did not resonate with me. In my opinion, the movie only depicts the violence and does not advocate it. The process of disintegration of Arthur’s original character is so organic, that you cannot help but sympathize with him, while not fully agreeing with his violent methods, to relieve himself from the misery.
Also, the movie does not end, showing Arthur happy. It shows him relieved, but that relief is momentary. He is slipping into an abyss, sometimes even without his approval. You as the audience know that he needs help, but you also know that there is nobody who can help him. It’s this apathy and hopelessness which makes the character relatable.
Pic credit: variety.com / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
But I do partially agree, that different people could perceive, what is unfolding on screen, differently. For instance, after the scene (without giving away too much), where Arthur gruesomely murders his ex-boss, and then cracks a joke, discomforting his colleague (an innocent onlooker) even further : some in the audience were laughing, some were shocked, and some were secretly sobbing. Need I say, anything more to clarify my point. Your actions and reactions, just like the Joker’s, is dependent on what you are feeding within you. The director is just telling you a story – it’s up to you, what you take away from it.
Technically, the movie is brilliant. Especially, the cinematography by Lawrence Sher was noteworthy for me. The colours are mostly dark and dull, perfectly in sync with the mood of the film. The use of fog (outdoors) and smoke (indoors) was also interesting to create the gloom.
Pic credit: denofgeek.com / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
The production design by Mark Friedberg complements the cinematography brilliantly by showing Gotham city, filthy, saturated and in constant turmoil.
The writing by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver is near perfect, because it manages to show the complete journey of Arthur’s character and yet keeps you engaged till the very end, without falling into the trappings of a regular commercial movie.
The only criticism could be, that some scenes in the movie were inspired from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1983). Since, I have watched both these cult classics, I cannot deny the fact that there are some references, but these are clearly a tribute by the director to the genius of Scorsese, as he himself has pointed out in some of the interviews, prior to the release of the film. Moreover, art will always have its inspirations.
For me, this movie was highly dependent on two things – the vision of the director and the execution by the actor because it is carried single-handedly by its protagonist from start to finish. When, I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but imagine the kind of conversations, the actor and director would have had between takes. I am sure there were a lot of improvisations, which would have eventually led, to making the scenes so mesmerizing.
As said earlier, this movie rests purely on the shoulders of Joaquin Phoenix. What do I say about his performance?
If ever there was a masterclass in acting. This is it!
I mean, this was as close to perfection that an actor could get to. Every tissue, bone, sinew and muscle on this man’s body, was complementing the expression on his face, the pain in his eyes and thought in his mind.
The transition from being depressed, defeated and lost to being cruel, vengeful and insane has been portrayed so beautifully, that never did anything feel rushed or overdone. It was just right.
Pic credit: nbc15.com / Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
To quote an example to illustrate this point – it was fascinating to watch, how Phoenix gradually created the Joker’s infamous laugh over the course of the movie. Although, the backstory to the laugh is a medical condition, it begins as a cough, which turns to a smirk, then into a chuckle and finally into the signature evil laugh in the end.
Joaquin, you hit the ball out of the park with this one! This performance will be remembered for years to come.
However, any comparison to Ledger’s performance is not justified, because both movies belong to completely different genres. What is common though, is that both actors managed to own this character and offer something new to it.
I would like to end by saying, that the Joker is undoubtedly a masterpiece. If you are still in a dilemma, whether to watch it or not – don’t be foolish and don’t miss the chance to watch it at a theater near you. I will give 4.5/5 for Todd Phillip’s – Joker. It is an engrossing dark character study, impeccably written and masterfully portrayed by its lead actor.