Few minutes into the movie, a dispirited Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Pheonix) asks his doctor :
“Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there!?”
My reaction to the same was an instant affirmation – for how effectively the director Todd Phillips in the opening sequence itself, establishes the plight of the (now renowned) Gotham city in the 80s. In the era sans Batman, it evidently is a complete pot of filth. There is no light in this world both figuratively and literally, as the cinematographer Lawrence Sher mostly portrays Gotham with a dark color pallete. The little happiness is sought in random lame jokes thrown by standup comedians and host (Robert DeNiro) of ‘The Murray Franklin Show’. For Arthur though, the same is the only source of hope too, as he has always been aspiring to be a guest and standup comedian at that show. But once experiencing his Rupert Pupkin moment like ‘The King of Comedy’ (1982) by his celeb god Murray Franklin, Arthur loses it forever.
Eventually short of warmth from everyone, he gets determined to pull off a Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver (1976) – ‘cleaning the filth’ of the city, with shorts fired in cold blood. It’s extremely disturbing to say the least, but Todd surely seems full-throttled to call a spade a spade. Diving deep into Arthur’s psyche, it soon becomes a dive so deep that by the end, few of the people in the theatre started cheering loud – as the movie celebrates Joker’s actions, the eventual alter-image of Arthur. The Joker persona soon becomes his identity and ceases to leave him, for he gets an identity in society with his words being listened. So what if few filthy souls are killed? All this is executed mercilessly, personifying the idea of gone too far in pursuit of recognition.
But this never seems too stretched or far fetched, for Joaquin Pheonix puts his heart, soul, blood, sweat into his portrayal of this complex titular character. It is for his conviction in acting that whatever depicted on celluloid seems much believable. For him to become a Joker, it takes no contact with any acid, just an interaction with society is enough. When he says with dismay – “I used to think my life is a tragedy, but now I realize it’s a comedy” – it does hit straight in the heart. The celebratory dance of what his part thinks is victory, the final reactions to Murray and his doctor – Joaquin has undoubtedly made this Arthur turned Joker an extremely memorable portrayal.
The reel life has come a full circle for DeNiro, as the tables have turned this time – with him now playing the character of a celebrated celeb god ‘Murray Franklin’, the host of a popular standup show. It’s his turn now to mock an aspiring comedian suffering from mental illness, which is ironically amusing. Rupert Pupkin has learned no lessons since 1982, huh? Zazzie Beats as the neighbour Sophie, Frances Conroy as the mother Penny Fleck, Brett Cullen as the apparently righteous Thomas Wayne only up the scale of acting department. The background score by Hildur Guðnadótti contributes to the chills, with the soundtrack playing in head long after it’s all over, as the imagery of Joker dancing all carefree to ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ is still vivid in my mind.
In a runtime of a little over 120 minutes, Joker is a proud discomforting fest of horrifying sequences, as it constantly strives to blur the lines of insanity in the world so filthy. It’s Joaquin’s performance that makes hard for one to get his eyes off the screen, irrespective of all the unnerving sequences injected perpetually for the audience to witness. This is no superhero or even a supervillain movie high on CGI, it indeed is a character study served raw and blunt – eventually leaving on the audience to differentiate between the right and wrong amidst the dark times we live in – where the Joker and the Batman are certainly clear of their individual ideologies.
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