Soooooo I finally watched Joker.....

Original Joker Movie Poster - Joaquin Phoenix - Batman - Gotham CityStory
Joker follows Arthur Fleck, a comedian living in Gotham City with a mental condition that causes him to laugh at inopportune times.

The movie follows Arthur as things in his life go from bad to worse in a city rife with crime and unemployment as well as a growing resentment of the upper class who don't seem to care. 

When I read the synopsis I instantly knew that this origin story pulled from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, as the man who would become the joker was a failed comedian. However, this version of the story doesn't have a pregnant wife or chemical waste and I like it more. This version is more realistic and is actually sadder.

This version of the Joker is someone who fell through the cracks and was ignored and cast aside by society. From the beginning of the movie, it is one thing after another and life just seems to constantly kick him while he is down. Given the circumstances, you aren't surprised at how he ends up because he GOES THROUGH IT in this movie. There is a quote from the third act that sums up Arthur's journey throughout the movie.
"What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?"
That is the question that the film poses, and the answer? You get the Joker, someone who has given up on the system and has descended into madness and nihilism because the things he held dear were taken from him and no one seemed to care.

Acting

This is Arthur' story and because of that, we follow him for most of the movie. When you have a story like this that revolves around one person, you need to have an actor that can carry the story and deliver a performance that you as the audience member would want to watch. Joaquin Pheonix is that actor. It is well known that he is one of the best actors working today and if you have seen movies like Inherent Vice and HER, then you know this.

Arthur Fleck is an everyman. The kind of guy you walk past on the street and wouldn't give a second glance and Joaquin plays that role very well. He's calm, soft-spoken and doesn't have of defining features (except for this condition and I will get to that in a minute). That is what makes his transformation all the more interesting. Arthur Fleck was someone who just lived their life day-to-day and then you have enormous circumstances that push him further away from the order that society demands of us. It's a grounded and moving performance because you really feel for Arthur. As the film goes on you get to see what makes Arthur tick, the circumstances that have brought him to where he is and how that could affect someone. The change is a fairly subtle one and that whats I like about Joaquin's performance.

As I said earlier, you follow Arthur throughout the movie but that doesn't mean you completely ignore the supporting characters. They add a lot to the movie and give some great performances, especially Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy. I would say that they are the ones whose characters fundamentally change Arthur (and mostly for the worse). They are both incredibly talented actors and  Murray Franklin played by Robert De Niro is my favourite supporting character.

Writing/Direction

The trend of comedic directors going on to make dramatic films is an interesting one. Todd Phillips is known for making comedic movies like The Hangover trilogy and Due Date and this movie is NOTHING like those movies. And while I personally don't agree with some of the things he's said his carer trajectory is an interesting one.

While I wrote this review, I read some things that critics said about this movie and a lot of reviews had the same complaints. Lack of originality. The film was called cliche, uninspiring and lacking motivation. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "the most disappointing movie of the year." And I can see where those criticisms are coming from.

Does Joker present a movie we've never seen before? No, it does not. And honesty? I didn't really expect it to. This movie is in a tough spot because most of us are already familiar with the character. Watching Arthur's journey is interesting but we already know where he is going to end up. We know how the story ends. However, there is a chance to do something new with the source material. Todd Phillips doesn't really do anything new. If you're familiar with Alan Moore's Killing Joke then you'll recognise that this is very similar albeit with a few tweaks.

A lot of reviews also stated the homages to Maritn Scorcese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and while I have not seen The King of Comedy, I see the Taxi Driver comparisons. A lonely protagonist who descends into insanity and becomes murder-y. Much like Travis Bickle, Arthur is a ticking time bomb and having De Niro in the film makes that connection all the starker.

The best scene is by far the scene where Arthur appears of Murray's show. It's probably the most tense because Arthur is at his most unhinged and you truly don't know what is going to happen. I'm going to leave it here (I wouldn't recommend watching it is you haven't seen the movie due to spoilers.)


CGI/Set Design

As far as Set Design the movie looks very "normal". It looks very much like what we see when we look out of the window, meaning it looks like a typical city. And that adds to the realism of the film. Here is what Gotham looks like in this movie.

Behind the Scenes of the Gritty Gotham City Where Joaquin Phoenix ...
Apart from the cars that link you to the time period. It looks like pretty much any city which was a great move by Lawrence Sher the cinematographer.

When it comes to the visuals of the movie, the colour palette is something worth noting. The production designer, Mark Friedberg and costume designer Mark Bridges talked about the changing colour palette in an interview with Variety (you can read it here)

As the story progresses and gets darker, so does the colour palette as well as Arthur's clothes. It's a great visual cue that gives the story more depth. This is what he looks like at the beginning
Joker Arthur Fleck Hoodie


This is what he looks like towards the end.
Todd Phillips Joker Movie

Score/Soundtrack

I am a sucker for a good soundtrack and Joker has a FANTASTIC soundtrack. There is so much going on in this movie and the music doesn't detract from that. Sometimes you have a score (and soundtracks) that either take you out of the film or don't add anything to the film, but in this movie, the use of music sets up each scene perfectly. It gives us an insight into Arthur's thoughts and feelings as well as certain situations and themes.

Having the song Smile by Charlie Chaplin (The Nat King Cole version is one of my personal favourite songs) in a movie about a man who laughs uncontrollably regardless of the situation is both poetic and ironic. Frank Sinatra's music has a strong presence in the movie, That's Life, and Send in the Clown were placed perfectly and added depth to the film.

I didn't fully appreciate the stairway dance until I saw the movie, because I only saw it as a meme. The use of  Rock and Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter, tonally fits in the scene that proceeds it as well as how Arthur feels. Also, the scene is really fun to watch.



The sound mixing and editing also help move the story forward. The score and soundtrack fit together perfectly and set the tone of the movie. The way the music and score vary in volume add, levity as well as tension to the film.


Overall Thoughts
You're probably wondering why it has taken me well over 6 months to see this movie. Well, dear reader, I couldn't see it when it first came out because the school I was in at the time was REALLY far from town so going to the movie was a lot of hassle. And eventually, I chose to not watch it due to the amount of hype surrounding it. When movies have a lot of hype I go into them with trepidation because they sometimes don't live up to the hype. I am glad to say that this one does.

I really liked Joker. It plays on Alan Moore's Joker origin story in The Killing Joke (but without the chemical waste) and how a series of events and 'one bad day' can lead someone down a path of madness and nihilism as well as how societal factors can also lead someone down that path.

I saw a tweet as I was writing this review that called it an 'Eat the Rich' film and that's a great way to describe the theme. It perfectly conveys what the Joker is trying to say during his interview with Murray in the third act.  He doesn't say the words but his actions and the way Gotham perceives those actions screams Eat the Rich.

I didn't see a lot of movie in 2019, so I'm playing catch up in 2020 and I wish I saw this movie because I get it now. I see why it was so divisive and while I am on the side that likes the movie, the side that doesn't made good points about why they didn't like it. It's also been very interesting to see the internet turn on this movie. When it was released it as a critical and commercial darling and everyone was talking about it was one of the best movies they had seen but now I'm seeing a lot of criticism of the movie, saying it's overrated or it has a bad script and bad writing. I don't think Joker is a bad movie, on the contrary, I like it and would watch it again.

I also think it's saying something with its social commentary, while also not saying a lot due to the way the story is told. It's only really stuck with the one theme and story thread. The movie portrays a world where those who are less fortunate are ignored which can breed resentment and anger  (and in a way mirrors the word we live in). I can also see how and why people say the movie makes excuses for it and gives a sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal maniac that could cause real-world issues. (which was/is many people were/are afraid of)

I've seen people say that they would prefer the jokester from Batman: The Animated Series rather than he tortured soul from this movie and I'm not opposed to either. One is a more cartoonish version of the character that mirror the sometimes cartoonish nature of the comics while the other is a grounded, somewhat realistic take mirrors the world we live in and the demand for realistic and grounded stories. It makes sense that the families of the victims of the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora Colorado (during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises) were a little apprehensive where this film was concerned (especially when it is reported that the shooter referred to himself as The Joker). The character is a symbol of anarchy and violence.

I'm very interested to see how this movie ages after a second viewing because I've seen tweets where people have stated that their opinion of the movie has changed as time has gone on, but for now, I liked it a lot.

Oscar Recap

Number of Nominations - 11 (I didn't know it was that many until I googled it)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Actor 
  • Best Cinematography 
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing

Number of Wins - 2
  • Best Actor - Joaquin Phoenix
  • Best Orignal Score - Hildur Guðnadóttir

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