By Peter Hagenlocher
Let’s set the record straight: “Joker” is not a movie meant to entertain you. Its sole purpose lies in the confounding depiction of the human psyche and what the impoverished and mentally ill struggle with constantly.
This spin on the Joker character puts the viewer in a very confusing situation, one where you’re meant to sympathize with one of the most ruthless and cunning villains in media. As Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, tries to make ends meet along with his mother, we can see that the Joker didn’t always have a screw loose. As he attempts to put a smile on his face and pursue a dream in stand-up, we begin to come face to face with a harsh truth: people are ruthless.
Despite having an optimistic outlook on life, the protagonist faces ridicule from every angle. His therapist, father, and the people of Gotham City relentlessly kick him down. In honesty, it’s hard to watch, since it’s difficult to imagine how someone like Arthur deserves this. But the human condition is a strange and terrifying thing.
As the film continues, you’re instilled with this tiny spark, hoping for things to get better; but if you’re familiar with the Batman universe, you know that isn’t going to happen. In fact, things just get worse. There’s a perverse darkness that lurks throughout the film, each scene building beautifully into another letdown. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.
“Joker” thrives on this formula, giving you an ounce of hope only to snatch it away in the very next scene. It’s a tense and uncomfortable experience. As you sit in the theater you slowly see the people around you squirm and shuffle in their seats as the atmosphere grows denser.
Arthur’s descent into insanity exemplifies the metaphor, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” With each push, shove, and slander, you see the start of the Joker’s manifestation. The actions and mannerisms of a man transfixed with escape and success become those of a deranged man slowly losing his mind. Phoenix plays up this madness perfectly, fully embracing the persona of everyone’s favorite psychotic clown.
While “Joker” may not be an exciting film, or a particularly entertaining one, it has a lot to offer. From an empathetic perspective you’ll notice a lot of issues that persist in society today. If you’re looking for something that shakes the foundations and pushes the envelope on what “villain films” could be, this is one of them. I have no doubt that “Joker” will be a cornerstone for those in the psychiatric field and for anyone trying to answer why society and hatred go hand-in-hand.