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REVIEW: Joker (2019)

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edited October 2019 in Movie Reviews

PEx Reviewer: pabzicles
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

How do you justify insanity? Is evil created by the society? These are the lingering questions I have to ask myself after watching the Joker. Todd Phillips’ atypical, bizarre and daring character study is an utter descent into madness and an exploration of how sanity is like a gun that once forcefully triggered shows the other side of humanity. A rightful film that perfectly captures the delusional mind of the iconic villain Joker that will go down in history as the most disturbing comic book movie ever made.  

There are words you can use to describe Joker as a film: serious, unsettling, provocative, dark, gritty and violent. It is funny these are the exact words you can read as the reason why DC Entertainment Universe failed in the first place. It is “too dark”, “too gritty” and “too serious” they’ve said. If Joker can ask DC producers in the face “Why so serious?” with them answering back to the villainous character “Okay, we will give you the most personal and serious take of a comic book character to date.” A move that seems to be validation of what Zack Snyder aims for the DCEU from the very beginning, but without the purpose of interconnection; also, the move that earned them the much-deserved Golden Lion Award. 


Titular aspiring comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is living with and taking care of her fragile mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy). We see them enjoy watching the comedic Murray Franklin show every late night, suggesting why Arthur pursues a career in comedy in the first place. But Arthur, similar to his mother that has a history of stroke is suffering from mental illness and brain damage causing him to laugh uncontrollably. Considering himself as distant and a loner, he just like any other, is seeking connections and a sense of belonging. After being bullied and felt disregarded by society due to his condition, we see his slow descent to delusion and by finally wearing the mask of the Joker.  

Phillips’ Joker is evidently influenced by Martin Scorsese, two masterpieces: The King of Comedy (1982) and Taxi Driver (1976). If these two films are to be considered cinematic brothers, Joker is their darker cousin. Suffice to say that the Joker is not radically new, it strips Scorsese intention of offering an alternate reality of what I considered to be a dreamlike ending of both films. Phillips instead treated those fantasies as an actual story, that maybe Joker just like the Pupkin or Bickle, their sociopathic actions are entirely rewarding.  

What separate Joker from the rest of comic book movie is how it is entirely grounded in reality even though it's purely fictional. Using 1980s New York as inspiration to portray Gotham City is a perfect milieu for the madness that is about to unleash. The streets are so busy day and night full of homeless people, wh ores, buggers, dopers, junkies, sick and garbage and rats. It is dangerous, dirty and derelict place sickening to look at. An ugly city to be in especially if you are suffering a mental condition. 


Arthur was presented here as a problematic character already, a ticking time bomb about to explode any minute. Raised by a narcissistic mother without a father figure, having no genuine friends. As Maslow has stated in his hierarchy of needs, every person requires love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. And the film clearly displays how these things are unmet. We see a person seeking recognition, validation or simply to be noticed yet entirely disregarded. Arthur is like Rupert Pupkin of King of Comedy finding his place in his chosen profession and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver that is entirely sick of the city he lives in because it is full of scum. 

What is worst is the lack of civility, people and most especially government apathy for the mentally ill. Madness is a lot like gravity and all it needs is a little push and Phillips daringly shows us that. Arthur can take a beating and insults, but there is a time when one cannot fully take hold of it. A gun that only serves as his protection against external dangers will become a means for him to earn the recognition he is aiming for all this time.  

Obviously, Joker won’t be convincing if not for the bravura performance of Phoenix that looks like Trevor of The Machinist (2004). If Robert de Niro provides a certain way to normalize his characters' sociopathic behaviors and would nevertheless make Bickle or Pupkin likable. Phoenix, in turn, can perfectly commit to exhibit what a deranged person is. His maniacal laugh and uncanny antics so palpable that even thinking of comparing it to Ledger’s Joker portrayal in The Dark Knight is hard to do. 
Going back to the initial questions, maybe we do not need to justify the Joker’s insanity. But rather view it as a creation of society that we need to prevent from being created. Joker will serve as a challenge to its audience that if you do not desire what you see then do something. Show compassion, be kind to everyone. I always believe that if a movie could generate a response, create controversy and may make you feel unsettled nor question things then it done something right. The kind of film that get stuck with you after watching it. If those reasons aren’t enough to call Joker a masterpiece, then I do not know what is. Maybe, just maybe, this piece of cinema is way too ahead of its time. One thing that I only know is that Joker is a game changer and sets a high bar for the comic book landscape. 

PEx Rating: 10/10

Directed by: Todd Phillips; Written By: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver; Starring: Joaquin Phoenix; Running Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes; MTRCB Rating: R-16.

Official hashtag: #JokerMovie

Joker in cinemas Oct. 3.

Check out the official discussion thread here: Joker


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