Joker Review: The Return of the Clown Prince of Crime

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Volunteer writer, Sofia Azcona, gives her insight into the new Joker adaptation, which has drawn praise and controversy across the board.

You don’t need to be an avid comic book fan or action movie lover to know of the Joker: Batman’s arch-nemesis and Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime. A criminal mastermind with a sadistic sense of humor, cinema has shown us many different Jokers throughout the decades (some better than others). Cesar Romero’s Joker was the campy prankster, Jack Nicholson the 80s mobster, Heath Ledger the terrorist. So what could Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker bring to the table that we haven’t seen already? How could he follow up such a long repertoire of interpretations?

Firstly, throw everything you know about superhero movies out the window. There’s no sight of CGI, special effects, gadgety costumes or pimped out cars – a breath of fresh air amongst all the cookie-cutter superhero films. The Joker may be a DC character, but the movie is a stand-alone from the DC universe, meaning it’s not related to the Suicide Squad plot, Justice League, or Jared Leto (thank god). It’s a character driven drama rather than a franchise commercial blockbuster.

Set in 80s pre-Batman Gotham, Todd Philip’s movie follows the mentally ill Arthur Fleck: a part time clown and aspiring stand-up comic. Suffering a very fragile mental state, his most notable disorder is the medical condition causing him to erupt in uncontrollable laughter regardless of its timing or how socially appropriate it is. Poverty struck and tormented, Arthur lives with and takes care of his mother. Things seem to take a turn when he meets single mother Sophie, earns a stand-up gig, and is even invited on to his favorite talk show program. Everything seems to be smooth sailing for Arthur, yet social oppression and class division worsen, becoming Gotham’s backbone and eventually his demise.

Heavily inspired by many of Scorsese’s 80s cult classics, like ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘King of Comedy’, Director Todd Philips threads the needle through grit, darkness, heartbreak and fear. Todd Philips, previously best known for the Hangover trilogy, manages to sprinkle in humor in moments of chilling tension and fear. He makes you question the boundaries of what you should be laughing at or not, much like how the Joker himself does. Pitch black irony.

Philips expertly arm wrestles hot topics such as mental health, social injustice and oppression, crime, political rioting; all pivotal themes which heavily resonate with our current political climate. He blurs the lines between reality, hallucination, delusion, and fantasy, making us question everything and ourselves. Is Joker just an origin movie, or a social commentary? Is it a raw depiction of the fragility of mental health, or just the creation of a super villain? And is it truly reflective of the 80s when it ties in perfectly with nowadays? True to the spirit of the Joker, all perceptions and interpretations are a liability – or a multiple choice.

 

Featured image by Frankie Stevens

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