Nothing funny about Phoenix's Joker

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (IMDB)

Based loosely on a character from the DC Comics Extended Universe, Joker is a dark study of a disturbed man’s psyche and is a cautionary moral tale. Source: ACOFB.

It follows the life of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a failed comedian, who turns to a life of crime in Gotham City. The film won the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2019.

Fleck is a stand-up comedian, whose life-stresses and tragic past have rendered him mentally unbalanced. He lives with his unstable, bed-ridden mother (Frances Conroy), and he has a love-hate relationship towards her. He struggles against the odds to survive in the fractured society of Gotham City. His services as a clown are up for hire, and he finds it hard not to obsessively relate to others in an aggressive way. He is totally disempowered by a society which has motivated him over time to be apathetic and cruel, and both apathy and cruelty lie at the heart of his illness.

Fleck’s life is a nightmare to avoid at any cost. The Joker is dangerous to himself and others. His tormentors laugh at him, and then they die. Part of Fleck’s mental condition is that he goes into uncontrollable laughter, which is frequently, and unfortunately. misunderstood by those who are unlucky enough to respond to his laughter insensitively, or in a fatefully inappropriate way.

Reflecting loneliness and madness, Phoenix’s acting, under the direction of Todd Phillips, offers the viewer a compelling picture of a totally morbid and sick society, which reflects sinister urban alienation. Joker is a victim of that alienation and a perfect illustration of it. He wants to connect with others, but can’t, and his hatred of others accumulates as a symptom of his conflicts.

In the role of Joker, Joaquin Phoenix delivers a jaw-dropping performance. It is almost as if he absorbs the movie entirely whenever he is on the screen. The film knowingly invites the viewer to sympathise with a terrible person.

Phoenix inhabits the role of Joker looking every inch the part, and he commits awful crimes with obvious relish. His character bears very little relationship to characters that have appeared in the DC Cinematic Universe to date, and Phoenix is enormously compelling in the role. He redefines the nature of the DC universe, and becomes the champion of lost causes, without appealing to virtue or goodness in any way.

This film will reshape future thinking about the DC Extended Universe. It is a dark film about someone left bereft by a broken society, and it foretells that future times will be grim.

- Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan, ACOFB

Joker: Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro and Douglas Hodge. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong violence). 122 min.

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Joker (ACOFB)

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