Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ is a thought-provoking masterpiece

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If you’ve ever liked comic books, or liked to watch Saturday morning cartoons as a kid, you’ve definitely heard of the Caped Crusader. Batman is a staple in pop culture, having countless comic books, television shows and movies, both live action and cartoon, made just for him. And if you’ve heard of Batman, then you know his arch nemesis, the Joker; the Clown Prince of Crime made his debut in the very first Batman Comic ever released, almost 80 years ago.  Since then, they have clashed countless times, with Batman being fueled by the death of his parents, and the Joker being fueled by… well, we don’t really know. His origin has always been shrouded in mystery, though some films, such as ‘Batman 1989’ and ‘The Killing Joke’ give him somewhat of a backstory. Both of them involve him falling in vats of chemicals, typical for a DC villain, however not very realistic. Todd Phillips gives the Joker the backstory he deserves in the film ‘Joker’, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the title character.

This standalone origin film is bleak to say the least. Phillips’ writing brings humanity to Arthur Fleck, a man cursed with the bad luck of a future villain. Brandishing a laminated card reading “Forgive my laughter, I have a condition” and living in a lousy apartment with his mother, Arthur Fleck has a lot of issues. From his multiple mental issues to his rock bottom job as a clown, Fleck is getting by solely on his dream of becoming a stand up comedian. The problem? He just isn’t funny. He is bedridden with negative thoughts and feels that he is completely isolated, with only his mother and social worker therapist to talk to. Yet they don’t really listen to him, and when the funding of civil services is cut, he loses both his therapist and the 7 medications that Fleck takes vigorously to try to make him feel happy. Phoenix brings Fleck to life in an emotional yet depressing performance that is bound to land him an Oscar nomination.

Phoenix’s performance is just a single spoke on the wheel of reasons why this film is a masterpiece. Robert De Niro sells cheesy talk show host Murray Franklin, a man that likes to make fun of people in a sadistic yet satisfying way. Francis Conroy also has a notable performance as Penny Fleck, Arthur’s frail mother, who has cared for Arthur by herself for all these years. Penny Fleck may be holding some secrets that one can only find out through watching Joker. Thomas Wayne, the father to Batman, is seen in this film as a candidate for mayor of the crumbling city of Gotham. Brett Cullen brings Wayne to life, promising the poor of Gotham a solution, yet calling them clowns at the same time. The icing on the cake of acting talent is Zazie Beetz, who recently found success playing Domino in ‘Deadpool 2’. Beetz pushes herself to the limits in a breathtaking yet brief performance of  Sophie Dumond, Flecks neighbor and love interest. The acting in this film is only strengthened by the absolutely stunning cinematography of Lawrence Sher. From uneasy extreme closeups to thought provoking wide shots, Sher gives Joker a dark, indie vibe.

The main point of criticism in this film is the implication of societal uprising, and how there are too many parallels between the film and the civil unrest in United States today. While this is true, one should not be offended by the materials shown in this film, given the context that this is a purely fictional work. That said, if one gets offended by similar content to this, or falls victim to severe anxiety while watching intense films, then Joker may not be appealing. But, if you can handle a thought-provoking spine-chilling drama that will keep you on your toes for its entire runtime of two hours, then Joker is the perfect film for you.