Review of Joker

Joker (2019)
Takes the Joker origin story, and puts a completely different slant on it
18 November 2019
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Gotham City, 1981. A place in the grip of a sanitation workers strike, leaving bags of waste piled high in the streets. A place where the divide between rich and poor is cutting through the hearts and minds of the people. In the midst of this madness, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles to live. An introverted, eccentric character who struggles to survive in the world. He's on various different forms of medication, and has a condition which causes an involuntary, loud, hysteric laugh to emanate from his mouth. However, after a devastating encounter with a group of bullies on the subway, he is plunged into a shattering series of events where his existence will come to have more meaning than he could have imagined.

When the Batman TV series originally aired in the 1960's, there were an entire cavalcade of villains who graced the screen on a weekly basis, but since the character's inception, none of them have ever had quite the hold on the cultural consciousness as the Joker. Easily the most intriguing, ambiguous, and startling neer do well, with a dark charisma that draws you in more. In this, what may be the most successful film of the year, director Todd Phillips reimagines the character's origins, and provides a totally different slant on them, diverting away from the comic-book narrative, and instead using the character as a template for a searing character study, serving as a wider examination of society as a whole.

Just as the lead character is framed in a different spotlight, so are some other characters from his background in the DC comics universe. While Thomas Wayne (here portrayed with a dour, judgemental undertone by Brett Cullen) has been depicted before as a millionaire with a heart of gold, investing his fortune to helping those from a more disadvantaged background, here we see him as a selfish, heartless tycoon, who looks down on those less successful than him. This casts an iffier slant on the motivations of the man who kills him, and young Bruce, who goes on to become Batman. It is in this way that Phillips skilfully demonstrates that good and evil/right and wrong may not always be as straightforward as they seem, and circumstances can dictate things.

Arthur is a marginalised, misunderstood loner, unable to form regular, normal relationships with others, who can only get that connection from others by serving as a freak show to an audience, thus his attempts to break through as a stand up comedian, and his determination to appear on The Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, in another of these roles that don't naturally suit him, but which he tries his best) Show, which ends up serving as a shocking springboard for him to gain admiration spreading a populist message.

Many might feel comic book characters have been done to death, but Phillips has here delivered something truly original and compelling, a thought provoking examination of nature or nurture that will turn everyone on their heads, and has established Phoenix as a bona fide, big name star.****
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