He has attracted some of the finest actors of every generation- Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix etc. The clown prince of crime is considered to be the greatest villian in pop culture & has gone several iterations over the years with each iteration being different from the others; yet the canvas still provides something new for every actor to leave his mark. But what makes Joker so fascinating?
It’s that his origin still remains a mystery. In the comics Joker said,”I would like to have my past of multiple choice“. Even in The Dark Knight, he narrates different story about the scars. He is an agent of chaos. He doesn’t have a name, no identity. And now director Todd Phillips has given a origin story for the Prince of Crime. But beware it’s a cautionary tale!
The film is set in the 80’s. Gotham is burning & the chasm between the rich & the poor couldn’t be more prominent. Arthur Fleck is a failed comedian. He lives with his mother in a thinking apartment. He is an economically backward citizen. He has to make his ends meet by working as a clown for hire, while battling severe mental health conditions that have crippled his social persona.Joaquin Phoenix who plays the part, what can I say about him? My words are gonna fail me today. He is brilliant in the skin of the person who slowly rushes into darkness. His eyes will haunt you. He looks like a malnourished wolf who has been cast out of the pack. I don’t know how in the world did he master that high-pitched cackle but while writing this blog I can still hear his laughter in my head. When he realises that he won’t be getting any medication just a small change in his facial expression is enough to know something sinister is gonna happen. It’s not in the grandeur of gun violence but in these nuanced moments that will make your skin crawl. Be it the ‘Joker walk’ or dance on the stairs, Pheonix uses his entire body to act & not just to deliver dialogues. This is the epitome of method acting. It’s depressing & unsettling to see a comedian slowly descends into a frightening psychopath yet we sympathize with him. So when finally evil wins, we realize that we had been supporting it all along. Kudos to Todd Phillips for extracting out such performance from Joaquin.
Other cast includes Academy Award winner Robert de Niro who hosts a comedy talk show based on his character in The King of Comedy. He cracks jokes at the expense of Arthur. Bret Cullen plays as Thomas Wayne who says poor people are nothing but a bunch of clowns, unknowingly ignites a revolution. Zazie Bates plays the role of a neighbouring woman & somewhat romantic interest of Arthur.
With an intense cinematography by Lawrence Sher & ominous soundtrack by Hildur Gudnadottir, director Todd Phillips makes you look at the world through Joker’s eyes & its horrifying. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal is so powerful yet so vulnerable as compared to Heath Ledger. Ledger’s Joker was beyond redemption as he was completely evil while Joaquin is still human until the society completely turns him down.
Joker is a testament that Hollywood can still make these kind of films-dark, nihilistic & unapologetically brutal that has the same aura of the violent films of the 80’s & 90’s- Taxi-driver, Cape Fear, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, etc. This film will make you wonder if we as a society are responsible for Joker’s existence.