Joker [movie reaction]

Joker. Anyone familiar with superheroes knows one of Batman's most formidable enemies and one of the most iconic and recognizable villains in media.

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies, which features the critically acclaimed portrayal of Joker by the late Heath Ledger. As an antagonist, the Joker of The Dark Knight is nihilistic, anarchic, and mysterious. To me, Ledger's Joker was scary because he doesn't have any rhyme and reason to his actions - as he claims to be an "agent of chaos." In The Dark Knight, there was a suspenseful clash between Batman and the Joker. You won't find that in this version of Joker.

When I heard of a new Joker movie and saw the trailer, I was anticipating the movie. We're used to big-budget movies from the Marvel and DC universe, with their advanced effects and film technology. I admit that sometimes, the premise of these movies can be quite ridiculous (Infinity Stones?) but they are also entertaining. The trailer for Joker feels very different. It feels smaller, more intimate, more like an independent art film than a cinematic blockbuster.

Actually, don't expect to see much of the Joker himself in the movie. There's not even much of Batman. This is like a superhero origin story - except the story of how a villain came to being.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown for hire in the squalid, decrepit Gotham City in 1981. He's taking care of an ailing mother, and there's nothing much that happens in his life. Due to mental illness, he meets with a therapist but due to budget cuts and problems with government funding, he soon has to stop therapy and his medications. He also has a rare condition of uncontrollable laughter that comes at inopportune moments - which others around him always misinterpret, and has led him to trouble many times. This condition actually exists - the Pseudobulbar Affect.

Arthur is an outcast. He's ill. He has some good in him, with his dream of being a comedian to make others happy and taking care of his mother. He's in a place that does not care for people like him. Arthur is odd, and is often an object of mockery by the people around him. As he writes in his journal/joke book: “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”

Arthur's life changes when he encounters three drunk men on the train who were harassing a woman. His condition pisses the guys off and *spoiler* Arthur ends up shooting them. One of my favorite scenes in the film is after the murder, Arthur locks himself in a public restroom and does a quiet dance - it feels like a symbol of the birthing of his new identity. Arthur finds himself the unlikely hero of the discontented people of Gotham. Though he killed those guys as self-defense, the populace took it as an act against the rich and corrupt of the city.

Another character in the film is Murray Franklin, a TV show host who Arthur admires. After seeing a clip of Arthur failing his skit in a comedy bar, Murray plays and mocks Arthur on TV. The climax of the movie nears when he invites Arthur to his TV show. It is one of the most shocking scenes in the movie yet as a viewer, it feels satisfying to see Arthur fight back.

There are aspects of the movie I didn't like - his romantic relationship to a neighbor felt off (explained later in a twist). His searching for his true identity feels too teleserye to me.

The setting of Gotham City in the film also stands out. It feels like a place of turmoil, discontent,  and corruption. There seems to be a great gap between the rich and the poor. We see that the Joker wasn't only made by Arthur but what the people and media made him out to be.

The reactions to this movie have been very divisive. There are those who claim that the movie could inspire unstable people to commit acts of violence. Though, there's one thing most people agree on, even the critics - Joaquin Phoenix acting in the movie is phenomenal. He even lost weight to look sick and emaciated for the role of Arthur Fleck. I'm quite ashamed to admit that this is the first movie I watched with him on it and I will probably seek out more of his films soon.

When Arthur finally becomes Joker, there's an odd feeling of satisfaction as a viewer. I would love to see Arthur's Joker in his full glory as a villain. In a sea of superhero films and villains, Joker stands out.

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  1. This is a great article. There are only few good movies showing about villains. Joker is one of the best villains, I've known. -Luis