A Poetic Masterpiece of Cinematic Brilliance.
Joker will be the daring film that people talk about for decades, the fact that it is part of the DC Lexicon is a minor thread to the reality that Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have made a tentpole spectacle for the masses. The kind of film that shatters you to the bone and gives you chills everytime you hear that laugh. There is anger, there is vengeance, there is betrayal and there is pain. This is pure theatrical tragedy, this is the deepest suffering and origins of clown work; commedia del arte, dance, noh, butoh, bouffon, the grotesque savagery of theatre of cruelty and the absurd. Sympathy and tears for a clown, the once wretched and hallowed ones that lay at the wasteside, the fools that know more than their kings. This is appreciation for theatre. Joker gives a voice to the broken and unsheltered, the ruthless, battered and needy, those hard of hearts who have suffered through the pain and heartache of a corrupt unbalanced system of power, greed and control. There is wicked due to the unjust, for the lack of attention to health and compassion for the victims of mental illness and true tragedy, the hunger and wretched poverty that work to breathe, struggle to survive. It's gritty and painful, Joker is dark and absurd, there is clear reason why this picture has started controversy, people should riot after seeing this film. It is bold, if not brave and daring to capture such a feature.
Joaquin Phoenix has captured, to the finest delicate morsel of his body, a degree of total and complete mastery of his art form. He will receive an Oscar if he likes one or not, but that is beyond the point, because people won't begin to understand how a film like this will make them feel until it fully hits, until it sinks into your soul how a man has captured heartbreak and a sullen life, and in turn shifts it into anarchy. Todd Phillips has taken an archetype of lunacy and melded it beautifully into the DC Canon and used the platform to bring art to the front of the stage once again, and honered the true act of performance. In an age of beautifully high definition cinematography we can see the seems of the skin of an actor in thought, in struggle and emotion. It bleeds through the screen on IMAX shot on an Alexa 65. When you see a film this big it demands every precision of attention of its stars. This one in particular is worthy of every frame that he's in, and he's in all of them, commanding the picture like a champion.
Joaquin Phoenix is a straight up gangster and the most dangerous man in Hollywood due to the brillance and mastery of his craft. He teeters on the balancing act of despair, but adds a fury of fearlessness, bravery and vulnerability like he has done in each of his past characters. But in this performance he holds nothing back, and in Joker he has gone all the way, it shows not only in his performance but his physicality. Every scene Arthur Fleck is in where his chest is bare and Joawuin’s infamous arching shoulder tenses through the screen you can feel the tension, like razor blades gnawing at your skin. As a viewer we behave to the feelings and emotions of the protagonist, we suffer their story for we are shown their world. Arthur's is a one of wretched depravity, but that of a sincere and honest heart, "to make people laugh and smile" is an earnest virtue, but even virtue can be crushed by vicious power, brute force, violence and absolute corrupt will. When there's nothing left to lose, the mad truly go insane. This is tragic because Arthur holds a microscope to the mentally unstable, those whose thoughts are tortured by fear and insecurity, of worthlessness and shame, emotions that are in their right mind unnatural to well being, but are inflected traumas with painful discourse. There is hurt in Arthur's life, which is no reason to become homicidal but it is a demand for care, proper care, and attention, these kinds of people need to be listened to, provided for in a way that does not rapture or disengage, that does not subdue or filter, we have become a society that supplements trauma with distraction, for there is not enough focus on the root cause of emotional loss of heart and sense of self. Joker is tragic because by dramatic nature he is destined for triumph, his arc, if starting at the bottom is to rise to the top, but the actions in which his own personal struggle for what he wants are achieved are played out through anarchy, violence and force. It is the delicate balance of attraction, for what one receives, must then relinquish or parish under the burden of its weight. The unfortunate torture of Arthur's struggle leaves him with one way out, no holds bar, guns a blazing, spectacle, performance and true triumph of showcasing what he had believed to be his destiny, to entertain. His entertainment is not in massacre and bloody entrails, but his surveyance of truth and speaking that which no one will listen to. When he finally has his platform to speak for the lower class, he does so with distinction, clarity and precision, but reacts with the force and trajectory of what he has received and punishes those who hold claim to that acclaim and fame, of standing on the backs of the impoverished to attribute to their gain. Can we hold sympathy for madness? Is a murderer but a victim of trauma? These are questions this film asks when faced with a challenge to morality and what is decidedly human.
Joker is an icon in many ways as Batman, for they are two sides to the same coin, of light and darkness forever dueling til the end. One born into tragedy that seeks comedic relief and redemption, the other born into luxury, fated to reap the sins of those who have sinned against him. We have for decades been shown Bruce Wayne's trauma, his depression and heartbreak, but now we see how Joker's came first, and whether this becomes canon for the next Batman film, we are finally shown a side to question who is more deserving of the spotlight? Whose pain is more worthy of interest? For in the end it is all of ours. These archetypes represent millions of stories, of the repressed, of the victims, of those who seek to achieve but are time and time again beaten and left to the shadows. Some unfortunately becomes villains, but villains never seek to end tragically for in their eyes the story is a comedy, they are the protagonists who act to get to their goals. Those who acquire it, go down in history as legends. Myths and stories we tell again and again. For the origins of the clown, the grotesque and the vile, how they come up from the trenches and swamps to sing their songs of despair, in hopes of finding joy. Out of joy and humor comes laughter, to soothe the savage heart, to comfort the tears and worry, to mend the wounds of the broken and to smile. The world is in need of smiles.
This is a long ways away from Todd Phillips' comedic beginnings in filmmaking, but he has honed his craft and anchored it upon those origins, and through understanding what makes things funny, what makes us laugh, he has always shown us a darker side to humor, danced with characters of immoral composure but sought to redeem them with a light touch of humanity, if any at all. Arthur Fleck is human, and he is raw and he is beating, bare chested he is the beast of despair and burden, but his triumph is being crowned the Jester Clown Prince of Gotham, the Killing Joke and laughter in the air. We have finally been shown the Joker in it's purest form, unhinged, delicate and powerful. He is a spectrum of emotions. He is sad and cruel. Sympathetic and fearless. Ruthless and vigilant. Daring and depraved. Heartbreaking and lonesome. Cursed but cunning. Slapstick and pitiful. His life is humourous because it is so sad, and painful because his sickness is not one to laugh at. He scratches the itch of the unsatisfied, the tortured and oppressed. He takes no prisoners and we truly see his deranged madness in full swing, but we begin to understand the makings of his monster. He is relentless, with nothing left to lose but to smile, laugh and put on a happy face.