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Joker (dir. Phillips)

Image: Joaquin Phoenix in Joker [Source: IMDB]

★★★★☆

A gritty, contemporary character study of one of comic books most prolific and greatest villains; The Joker. Known here as Arthur Fleck, he is a man disregarded by society.

Director: Todd Phillips. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen [15]

The Joker as a character has always been one that reflects off the Batman hero figure. But here he is drawn out of Batman’s shadow and given the spotlight in a cross-examination. The Joker for me is a character that simply only exists due to Batman’s existence and I believe that is what makes The Joker such an integral, interesting and a truly magnificent character. Part of which is given room to spread its wings through its murky background of the character, it’s always been as though he simply is because of Batman’s existence.

Which I do believe presents problems in Joker. It’s as though we are drawing the curtain back on The Wizard of Oz to find the man with a megaphone and his narcissistic personality disorder. There’s almost too much emphasis put around what creates a dangerous mind such as this. Pinning it down to the likes of untreated mental illness, emotional neglect and an unstable, brutal upbringing. But undeniably, Phillips is pointing a finger at society here. Suggesting that the criminals, maniacs and psychopaths are birthed of societies negligence and ridicule. Seeming to cast judgement on the survival of the fittest attitude ingrained in our systems and the greediness that leads to help being taken away.

There is never a suggestion that perhaps this character is just insane. A common occurance in reality but here the Joker is Arthur, a man reaching out for affection. However, while this does give perhaps too much credence to blame and creation of “evil” and to extent giving far too much sympathy to Arthur where the line between Anti/Hero is being blurred. There is a lot to be said from the discussions that can be raised from Joker and it’s intelligence in creating a serious and mature “comic book movie” which is very easy to forget that is what it is. What is demonstrated by Phillips is the brilliance of The Joker/Batman story and its ability to shift tone and narrative style completely, after all these are characters with no powers, they are human. Phillips wants to draw out that humanity and put it on full display. Which he does brilliantly.

But the real punchline to the dark gritty joke that is a ‘comic book movie’ being a serious drama. Is Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker. An absolute magnetic force from start to finish, never a weak performative moment. I certainly will be the first to say that his Joker really gives Ledger’s a run for its money but certainly holds as the most human portrayal. Connecting us to him through vast sympathy and unbridled disturbance. Phoenix captures a deeply disturbing laugh and a powerhouse performance as a man on the brink of pure insanity.

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