What happens when you reach a breaking point after being subjected to years of mental abuse, ignorance, and self-loathing? You realize you’ve never been happy, you don’t know what happiness feels like… that’s when one takes an unexpected step not fearing the unknown, either leaving it all to the universe or snatching away what they believe to be theirs by right.
‘Joker’ is no ordinary film, neither is it a film that talks of a very serious issue about mental health through heavy dialogues, or a preachy story-line. The outcome of Todd Phillips (director and co-writer) and Scott Silver’s (co-writer) hard work in the making of this phenomenal piece of art is an original story set in the ’80s, exploring the character of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). In case you are not too well versed with the ‘Batman’ story-line, you need not worry as this film is a standalone story.
Arthur Fleck is a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s messed-up society while working as a clown. Although he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night, he fails to impress his audience with his lame jokes and instead becomes a joke himself. Even his mother does not appreciate him. He tries to always put on a smile on his face pretending to be happy, and trying to fit in his strange surroundings which have always mocked, and abused him. Things are worse for this initially innocent loner with a condition which causes him to laugh uncontrollably when he’s nervous, further annoying people around him.
Caught in a spiralling existential crisis amid acute cruelty and ill-treatment he has been facing for years, Arthur makes one bad decision. This eventually results in a chain reaction of escalating events later in the narrative, portraying the complexity of grey characters.
The film is an impeccable canvas of subjectivity relating to what’s funny and what’s not — the very perceptive concept of truth, joy and triumph. What may seem funny to one might be offensive to another. ‘Joker’ explores the making of a “bad” man — simply pointing out the flaws in societal norms which have always been known but never been addressed or dealt with strictly.
The film, very diligently, explores the complexities of persons suffering from mental illness, one’s sense of self-awakening, one’s idea of purpose in life, and on a whole, the very question of human existence.
As pointed out by almost all viewers, this film brings to the forefront the importance of mental health — the cause and effects of depression, the fine line between being happy and nearing madness in the pursuit of finding happiness, and more importantly one’s attempt at being happy, chasing that unknown feeling of contentment which perhaps nobody has experienced yet.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is beyond beautiful. The physical transformation is as commendable as his portrayal of the character of Fleck throughout. There is never one moment when you’d question the director’s choice of actor for the titular character. Watch out for Phoenix’s incredibly eerie dance inside a public washroom. Paired with a humble voice — interrupted by sudden uncontrolled shrieking laughter — and subtle but very eloquent expressions, Phoenix delivers the best Joker ever.
It is perhaps Phoenix’s subtle eloquence that has won him a billion hearts across the globe and set high standards for future attempts at playing the Joker. The narrative somehow reveals the protagonist’s hamartia, and I could not help but think back to Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. Although a very different scenario and plot, the feeling of tragedy for the protagonist are eerily similar to me. (absolute personal thoughts)
Director, Phillips had said that they drew elements from the graphic novel The Killing Joke (where his character is an unsuccessful stand-up comedian); however, the film does not follow the comics. And this bold move turned out as the best resource for the team.
The clever use of retro music as the background in the film (especially ‘That’s Life’) does wonders. Although the story disparages hate, violence, and anger, it doesn’t promote love or kindness. In a very objective manner, it showcases the filth, and garbage, and vermin that New York City was known for at a time, as the film starts with a news briefing of how Gotham city is full of rats and unclean streets with piled up garbage bags. The film does not attempt to teach anything, rather it’s self-liberating, and allows every viewer to perceive it differently.