Todd Philip’s Joker forces you to look at a supervillain, long taken for a heartless character with zero to no regard for humanity, with all of your humanity. With this movie, Philip not only humanises Arthur Fleck but also demands a great deal of sensibility from its audience.
As said by Todd Philips, Joker can be categorised as a character study made with vision and fury. This movie gives Joker a completely different origin story which keeps it grounded in reality. It explores what happens to a person when they go through life wearing a mask and then what happens when they take it off. The audience sees a complete flip, the idea behind the mask is what happens when one stops living like that and becomes a shadow.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Joker in the film, whose laughs ensure that no one else is laughing. A laugh, so haunting that it leaves you with scars, scars of a trauma he went through. Arthur Fleck, the protagonist has a neurological condition which ‘causes him to laugh uncontrollably even when it does not match his emotions’. As a clown, Arthur who is always referred to as Joker might have grown into this condition, as if it comes naturally to him to hide his depression and as a result replace it with laughter.
It is also quintessential to note that except for that one scene in the movie, where Arthur rides the bus and shows the lady a card that specifies his mental condition, he is never treated with kindness despite his condition. Irony smiles every time he is beaten up because of a laugh, his laughter becomes a source of pain. Arthur’s psychological condition makes him imagine his entire relationship with his neighbour, which for him are moments of relief in his chaotic life, only for everyone to know, that it was a result of his trauma as well. Joker’s dance in the film is also remarkable. Every time he has felt scared or been emotional, the audience sees him break into dance as his bodily response to his own pathos, a joy overridden by his horrifying actions.
Through Arthur’s journey, which leads to anarchy, the audience witnesses the life of a long-suppressed character, a representative of a class which has had enough of the higher classes exploiting them. Arthur’s first unplanned murder of the three businessmen working for Wayne Enterprises gives birth to an unexpected revolution. This revolution which on the surface looks like mayhem and chaos is as revealed through the film, the product of oppression unnoticed for countless years.
Joker is set in an alternate universe, which makes it almost completely detached from the stories in the comics, television series or the movies. Todd Philips in an interview clarified that although during the movie, it is never revealed where and when the events take place, in his mind it is New York City, 1981. This explains the rundown, dirty, dysfunctional city. The production designer, Mark Friedberg. Grew up in the Upper Westside built a Gotham from his memory and fragments of Philip’s memory. It’s quite interesting to note that Mark Friedberg in his attempt to mark different areas of the city for the movie and create a distinction in Arthur’s neighbourhood and place of work, managed to install different designs for the kind of garbage that was depicted in the movie. Each section had a different design of the garbage bags to distinguish from the other.
The end leaves the audience with a thought-provoking scene and shreds of unanswered questions, where Arthur is seen at Arkham State Hospital, laughing his terrifying laugh and telling a story. Moments later, he is seen leaving the room with a trail of bloody footprints, evidently having killed the social worker. The ambiguity here, makes the viewers want to come back for more, to find answers for their list of questions.
Joker sets itself as an unarguably brilliant example that lays down the distinction between terms like protagonist, hero, antagonist and villain, often used interchangeably. In the film, Arthur Fleck is the protagonist but whether he is a hero or not is up for debate. This film goes above and beyond the structures and constructs of cinema, to bring in to existence an artistic and unique comment on the perception of villains. The power this film has is unimpeachable.
The video mentioned in the review is attached above.