Film Review - Joker

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from “Joker,” in theaters on Oct. 4.

If I can, I like to see a film on opening night. Thursday night, I went and saw Todd Phillips’ new film, “Joker.”

What a dark, complicated, and wonderful film.

“Joker” is and has been a very controversial film, and one can see why after experiencing it. Phillips created a great film and Joaquin Phoenix was masterful in his acting and creation of the Joker character.

The film tells the story of failed comedian Arthur Fleck as he seeks connection during his life in Gotham City.

Fleck is isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, and slowly descends into madness. In the end, Fleck transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker, or at least a version of him. That descent is simultaneously beautiful to watch and discomforting.

“Joker” is a film that one way or another forces you to feel something about its main character. Phillips uses tons of imagery to elicit emotion. Phoenix uses movements to do the same.

The audience will see scene after scene where there is just a slight hesitation, hanging on a moment to bring it home to the audience. The best example of this is when two of Fleck’s “friends” come over after his mother’s death and before he goes onto the television show.

This is the scene where you realize he has snapped. There is a moment where Phoenix pushes his arms outward against opposing walls very intensely and tilts his head with this truly evil look on his face. This sells the point when he has gone mad and is truly creepy and even a bit scary.

However, Phillips uses imagery like that far too often. Phoenix controlling himself, dancing, smiling, forcing a smile and laughing. These moments by themselves are wonderful but by the end they are cumulatively boring and over done.

The film’s story can be used to drive some of these points home and is more subtle than continuously saying to the audience “pay attention here,” now “here,” and “here.” It is exhausting.

Phillips is telling a story and trying to tell you how to feel about said story. Most artists and directors will tell you that they create what they as an artist want, but they also say that what the audience sees or feels is equally important. Phillips seems to be saying only what he feels is important.

This sentiment comes through in Fleck — he is isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, but he never notices that so are the people around him. The very thing he accuses the Waynes of “not noticing,” he himself does not notice either.

Phillips tries to show that it is a very large group who are suffering by adding protests, riots and an atmosphere of suffering throughout Gotham. This does not work for the same reasons it does not work now in real life.

People are individualistic. Their own problems always matter more to themselves than others’ problems will, even if their problems are the exact same thing.

Fleck never notices the struggle of his neighbor and her daughter. Instead he uses/stalks his neighbor in companionship/sexual fantasies. Not once does he realize he himself is adding to her suffering.

Just that she is adding to his.

All the while Fleck (Joker) is saying he was never noticed and people would just walk over him but not anymore. The anymore comes after the violence.

Some think this glorifies violence and it may. Actually to be honest, it probably does.

Phillips wants you to see Fleck as a sympathetic villain but he is not. You are not justified in doing bad things just because bad things were done to you.

Change only happens when people who suffer stop wanting other people to suffer and instead want other people to NOT suffer.

Phillips created this version of the Joker to suffer and make others suffer for what has been done to him. To be honest, Phillips created the crown prince of crime, but Phoenix brought him to life.

Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is nothing short of breathtaking. This nihilistic Joker whose jokes are anything but funny is beautifully twisted and disturbingly grim.

Phoenix gives a performance that makes the audience feel what true loneliness feels like. It is a huge cinematic achievement and one that should see him at the top of the Oscar race.

Phoenix winning an Oscar for this may be controversial since Heath Ledger is beloved as the Joker and he did win an Oscar. This version of the Joker is not as good as Ledger’s.

Again, “Joker” is not without controversy, as it has been cited to inspire incels and theaters have closed under threats.

Then there is the comedic aspect and Phillips is on record railing against counterculture and comedy’s place in 2019.

Phillips claims “Woke” culture has killed comedy. To that I say it depends on what you’re calling comedy. Everyone has to work within the framework of society at the time they live in it, comedians are not exempt from this.

“Joker” is controversial, and odds are many will disagree with me, but it does not mean this film is not worth the trip.

Phoenix is iconic and masterful in his performance and no matter the message or politics, seeing a good film is still a wonderful experience.

The audience can take away whatever they need to or feel from “Joker” and it will be different than what others do.

This will always be one of the best things about cinema. Cinema truly is one of the remaining only things in society can have an opinion about without consequence, and should.

What will be yours?

IRATE SCORE: 3/5

Jason Guyer is an avid moviegoer and works in the graphics department at the Eagle Times. For questions or comments he can be emailed at guyerj@eagletimes.com

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