USA | Canada 2019
Opening October 10, 2019
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Writing credits: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Principal actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen
At a time when it feels like Hollywood has jumped the shark on comic films, Joker comes out swinging with a refreshing new take on a familiar face. Life has not been kind to Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a down-on-his-luck clown who can’t ever seem to catch a break. It’s hard to survive in a city which has ceased to care, something which he increasingly struggles with as he faces one overwhelming challenge after another. As Arthur descends into madness and brutality, how much is the result of his own failings, and how much is the result of a world which did its best to make a broken man a villain?
At a time of ever growing instances of mass violence in America, it is perhaps no wonder that an in-depth character study of white man who commits violent murder has divided critics and audiences. It is a painful cultural subject and there are certainly moments within Joker could do with some examination and criticism. Yet, it feels like an injustice to the superb acting of Joaquin Phoenix and the impressive direction and writing of Todd Phillips to ignore the film’s many strengths simply due to it having a controversial subject.
It is, in fact, rather interesting that Joker has caused so much controversy, considering that a considerable number of films glorify murder and mayhem and no one blinks an eye. Is it simply more palatable when the villains are two-dimensional so that audiences can stop worrying about enjoying the representations of chaos that we find disturbing in real life and simply write off the bad guys as evil? Maybe that is easier to swallow, but Joker doesn’t allow the audience to see the villain as simply an evil person. He is more complex, and that complexity is disturbing in its own way as it poses the question of how much we, as members of an often cruel and dismissive society, are responsible for the creation of monsters that resemble the character of Arthur Fleck.
There will be many who dislike Joker for a wide variety of reasons; perhaps they will find it to be too close of an homage to classic Scorsese films, or maybe they won’t like the treatment of women in the story. These are legitimate criticisms and art is, in the end, subjective. However, in the opinion of this critic, Joker is a well-made and multilayered film which deserves to be seen and discussed, not simply dismissed because it has the potential to be offensive. ( )