By Jordan Zhu
The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and are not representative of the views of U-Insight.
As the most popular super-villain in the Batman universe, Joker serves as a direct opposite to Batman in terms of personality and appearance. In the comics, the Joker acted as the mastermind behind various plots against Batman and allies, whereas films like The Dark Knight (2012) brought Joker’s popularity to new heights. This is mainly accredited to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in the 2012 The Dark Knight series.
The iconic line “Why so serious?” and the various tales about the formation of smiling scars are etched in the hearts of most DC Cinematic fans and cinema goers. Hence, the bar is set high for Joker (2019), the standalone film dedicated to telling the back story of the Joker. The recent Golden Globe and almost guaranteed Academy Award nominations further heightened my expectations.
In this attempt of drawing the early life of Batman’s arch-nemesis, Joker opens a whole new realm to detail the life of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a clown and aspiring comic with a middle-lower class socio-economic status and his transition into the criminal mastermind, most commonly known as the Joker.
Fleck earns a meagre salary, which is the bare minimum to provide for himself and his physically and mentally ill mother. However, he too has a medical condition, that entitles him to social assistance and medications schemes. Other than his unique condition, he is your average working-class folk struggling to make ends meet.
Phoenix, an experienced actor, was spectacular in showcasing the transition of a weak, bullied, self-pitying and marginalised “freak” into a menacing, bloodthirsty, murderous sociopath. His attention to details such as hand gestures, intonation in speeches, facial expressions, and body postures allowed the successful transition of Fleck to Joker. Given ample creative space, he also constructed his own flair and flavours to further encapsulate the true essence of the character, wherein he then executed his own brutal journey towards self-destruction.
Phoenix successfully brings out the essence of the Joker, yet differentiates himself from Ledger’s version of the Joker – as such, we are fortunate to be able to experience two different Jokers. The former one in The Dark Knight would be the volatile yet calm and sophisticated crime-lord that seeks joy in the suffering of others, while the latter the juvenile, unstable spree killer who unchains the psychopathic beast within himself. Phoenix’s Joker is vengeful; it seeks to combat the unjust and this simply makes everything unparalleled.
The movie’s new take on the role of Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father, is, however, quite shocking, and this would change people’s perception on the Gotham City’s billionaire cum philanthropist. This new revelation also brings the movie closer to the current world context and challenges our views on Bruce Wayne and his family. As the movie progresses, you will come to realise that perhaps both Batman and Joker are simply products of the society they are in; simply two sides of the same coin, acting a foil to each other.
In a world like Gotham with prevailing inequality and injustice, we observe how a society with an extreme capitalistic elitism and an unchecked elite class can devolve and derail. The movie prompts us to reflect on the everlasting debate revolving around social and political systems. Towards the end of the movie, various protests and social unrests like the French Yellow Vest movement and the ongoing Hong Kong protests were flashing and ringing at the back of my mind.
Joker is a reflection of reality, where populism and hate sentiments towards social elites are simply consequences of a world without justice, and where a bleak future is what the lower and middle class face. All around us, people struggle to have their voice heard and eventually that brings about a revolution or destruction to the society.
Essentially, Joker is a mere by-product of an apathetic and unfair world. I was overwhelmed with an unspeakable, refreshing sense of joy at the final stage of Arthur’s transformation, where he rises up and stands before his followers. Our protagonist obtains success, albeit not the kind he was hoping for at the beginning of the film. Soon, I realise it would be politically incorrect to celebrate the Joker’s success, yet it felt logical to sympathise with him. Of course, that might just be part of the film’s purpose, letting readers to experience this moral dilemma. However, it is also inevitable that Joker, as a commercial film, only explores such societal and moral issues on a superficial level. Nonetheless, it is satisfactory to that extent.
Joker is a compelling watch with brilliant acting and storytelling. The film’s only shortcoming, is its shallow and commercialised approach to a theme that requires serious and complex reflection – these are well-predicted. But it would nevertheless result in a sense of disappointment and emptiness as you walk out the cinema.
Sometimes, we might just be expecting Joker to be the surprising odd-one-out. That’s why those who are experienced with this genre may not be fully satisfied despite being entertained. With all that being said, the dark theme and necessary gore wouldn’t be recommended for those who cannot appreciate such genres. However, just like Joker, the darkness is carefully mixed and seasoned with a tasteful yet freakish sense of humour, hysterical comical effects, which may or may not alleviate the depressive atmosphere.
Watch it or not?
Free and lonely: Watch it
For a date: Um, think twice
Got deadline this week: No mood to do work after this
Friend jio you go drinking: Go drink first, you will need it