Review: ‘Joker’ is nothing to laugh at

(PHOTO/ AntMan3001 photo via Flickr)

Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the titular villian is raw, real, and unsettling to the core. 

Luke Brantley

Variety Editor

“Joker” is no joke. 

This dark origin story is directed by Todd Phillips, and stars Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous Joker. Despite the name that the character and the movie share, the story isn’t funny. It’s dark, it’s disturbing and it’s sad. 

This is a review, so here’s an official SPOILER ALERT.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a struggling, aspiring stand-up comedian who suffers from severe mental illness. He is plagued by a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably, despite whatever emotion he’s actually experiencing. 

In the beginning of the film, Fleck works as a clown – holding signs promoting sales in stores, or entertaining children in the hospital. 

Throughout the movie, Fleck is repeatedly mistreated, attacked or just ignored by society. All of these incidents pile on top of each other as Fleck spirals out of control. 

After being attacked by a bunch of kids, one of Fleck’s coworkers gives him a gun to defend himself – and this is where the story really starts to go downhill. 

Fleck loses his job and is told his therapist won’t be able to see him anymore. Not only that, but his medications are cut off. 

Not long after this, Fleck commits his first real act of violence. The act starts off somewhat justifiable and understandable, but he carries it way too far. 

Disturbingly, after this violent act, he seems to gain some control. His laughter becomes less sporadic. He feels society is finally taking notice of him. 

Fleck is dealt blow after blow as the story continues, and he returns each blow with increasingly violent and depraved acts against those who have wronged him. 

Despite not being a traditional comic book movie, and despite being an origin story for one of the most famous villains of all time, this movie treats the Joker as the “hero.” Or at least, that’s how he sees himself. 

The Joker has experiences similar to those a typical superhero might face. But instead of rising and doing the right thing, the Joker sinks lower and lower into insanity and bloodshed.

Heath Ledger portrayed a version of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” that was simply crazy and, as Alfred put it, “wanted to watch the world burn.” But Phoenix’s Joker felt much more real and personal.

Phoenix’s Joker has a personal motivation for each shocking act of violence he commits. The Joker feels like he is powerless and an outcast from society, but these horrible attacks he carries out make him feel powerful and noticed. 

One of the most disturbing things about this movie is that not everyone sees the Joker as a villain. There are people who celebrate his violence as justice and much-needed revenge against the rich and powerful of society who look down on the poor and powerless. 

Much of this movie felt real, especially as it dealt heavily with mental health and gun violence – two very divisive issues affecting the U.S. today. 

This version of the Joker seems like something out of the news, as opposed to something out of comic books. 

This movie has sparked a lot of backlash for how it tackles some of these issues, and that’s reasonable. There are people rooting for the Joker, and it is easy to see how people suffering from serious mental health issues could take this the wrong way. 

That being said, the movie still doesn’t portray Arthur’s violent acts in a positive way. 

“Joker” doesn’t make a one-sided political statement, but it definitely makes several statements about society that will leave viewers thinking for a long time after watching the film.

Another unsettling element about this movie is just how real it is. The Joker in “Joker” isn’t some stereotypical maniacal villain with dreams of world domination. 

Phoenix’s Joker is a man with severe mental illness who sees his crimes as a way for him to get attention and have a sense of power and control.

Despite the controversies and the deeply disturbing tones and themes of the story, “Joker” was an excellent movie. Phoenix did an outstanding job portraying the Joker’s descent into madness and violence. 

Robert DiNiro nails his role as a smug late-night talk-show host, and every other actor was great as well. 

“Joker” did a good job of keeping the focus on the titular character, while also referencing the Batman universe and story that many are familiar with. Recognizable characters show up throughout the movie, which takes place in the city of Gotham.  

The movie builds and maintains a sense of unease and dread throughout its entire runtime, as it eventually culminates and ends in an insane symphony of sociopathic rage. 

That is, if it even happened. The movie is made in such a way that there is some doubt as to whether certain events are actually happening or if they are fantasies told by an unreliable narrator.

On top of Phoenix’s amazing acting, the sound, music, pacing and editing all go a long way to add to this building tension. 

“Joker” puts a new spin on the character. It’s a spin that is very realistic — enough so that it could be set in the real world and be just as believable. 

Arthur Fleck may be laughing, but “Joker” is no joke.

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