The new Joker movie has arrived. And what do you know, it’s even darker than Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Let’s have a look.
There once was a man named Arthur Fleck. Arthur works as a clown and lives with his old and weak mother in a run-down apartment building. He wants to be a stand-up comedian, and dreams of being on the show of his hero Murray Franklin, a talk show host. What doesn’t help him is his condition: he bursts out in uncontrolled laughter in stressful situations.
When a bunch of kids beat him up and a colleague subsequently offers him a gun, he takes it. Things slowly start to escalate from there, as both his past and present push him relentlessly down a slippery slope.
Joaquin Phoenix makes ‘the Joker’ what it is. The movie is a character study and Phoenix pulled out all the stops for this one. The movie reminded me of Black Swan, the Machinist, and Fight Club, with its dark overtones and uncomfortable close-ups of a character going to a dark place. Phoenix handles it masterfully, creating a character who is very relatable, but also extremely frightening.
What’s brilliant is that the Joker doesn’t start out as a psychopath in this movie. He’s a nice guy with a mental handicap trying to make something of his life. Slowly, over the course of the movie, you see him being pushed further and further from that goal.
The hero’s journey
What’s interesting about Joker’s journey, is that he follows the classic hero’s journey, or Hollywood formula, which boils down to the same thing. It’s not a tragedy in the traditional sense. It’s a hero’s tale.
The Joker starts in his own world, where he wants to play by the rules of society and be a stand-up comedian and stand-up guy. The inciting event of his story is that he is beaten up. He accepts the gun offered to him by his colleague and decides to carry it, accepting the call to adventure.
Then he enters a new world of dreams, illusions, and lies. Slowly he learns that what he wants is not what he needs. He will never be accepted by the normal society as dictated by a group of the rich and powerful and he will continue to be under their boot if he tries. What he needs is to strike back violently at those who lied to him and bullied him. Only then can he be truly himself.
I won’t spoil the rest of the movie, but let’s just say that the hero gets what he needs in the end. What makes it different from other movies is that what the Joker needs is just really really dark. Like any criminal in our world, the Joker sees himself as the hero, and this movie shows us exactly how that works.
I loved the Joker. It was a bit long-winded, although I think that length also helped to feed the dark atmosphere before the climax.
If you want just another super hero movie, you’ll be disappointed, but if you like movies like Fight Club and The Machinist, you’ll love this one.