Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver 

“For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even really existed. But I do, and people are starting to notice.”

When a movie sparks critical and commercial outrage, it’s a movie that begs to be seen. Joker isn’t a movie that begs you to see it; you need to see it. Joker is the tale of what happens when a man gets pushed too far. It’s a film that tells the message of what happens when a man is cast out to a society without any real help in sight. He may seem horrid and out of control, but that’s how far he’s been pushed without the smallest bit of compassion and empathy to his situation. This film makes you feel uncomfortable to the point where you might want to walk away or cover your eyes, but I’d argue that’s the point of the film. Joker delivers you some harsh words, extreme actions, but does it in a way where you sympathize and see yourself.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who is mentally ill and has dreams of making it as a comedian. Arthur is a sensitive and sad man who has never had a good day in his life. Things start to spiral for Arthur when a couple of kids steal his sign. After this, a rapid chain of events begins to unravel, bringing Arthur into a descending mental and physical state. He dives into a level of madness that includes way too many twists, turns, and BatHistory to process. 


Just so we get this out of the way, you should most definitely take the time out to see JokerJoker is one of the most stunning character studies that resembles other character study films like its cinematic brother Taxi Driver or Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer. 

Todd Phillips lays the groundwork of this film from the playground of Martin Scorsese’s classics and comicbook knowledge. Before I get into being a film nerd, let’s talk about the comicbook stuff that’s in this film. Phillips creates his type of universe that Joker lies in. Phillips and co-screenwriter Scott Silver go the extra mile to create their own world, but they don’t forget the comic world that the character comes from. There are small and large Easter Eggs from the final scene where Bruce’s parents are shot in the alley to an eerily similar scene where Joker appears on a talk show in Miller’s The Dark Knight Rises. Even after all the Easter Eggs are laid out, these two take something brilliant from the comics that makes the Joker such a great character. That is Joker being an unreliable narrator. 

The one thing I love more than anything is an unreliable narrator, and Joker gives you that more than you thought you wanted. Phillips and Silver present a Joker missing so much of his story, but slowly letting YOU discover who he is with him.

The unreliable Joker is what makes the comic Joker so memorable and what made Heath Ledger’s Joker so incredible on screen. You buy every single one of those stories and consider them. You’re not forced to make up your mind. With this Joker, you’re almost forced to take a stand on what you believe about him. You travel on this journey with him, but do you think that THIS is all happening? While sitting in the theater, I needed to figure out what I thought and what I didn’t. That’s what makes what Silver and Phillips so damn cool with what they did to this character. He’s so uncertain and will still be unsure for a very long time. 

Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?

Phillips works in that classic Scorsese auteur for his directional vision, and it’s absolutely brilliant. He takes those elements in Scorsese’s films but brings them together in this film in his voice. There are loads of directors who can bite other director’s styles. When you bite a form, you need to make it your own, and Phillips did just that. 

You see the influences and glimpses of Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Mean Streets, but you also recognize another style that was just the gritty rough look of 1970 – 1980s NYC films. There was a particular type of grindhouse look to the cinema in the ’70s and ’80s. With Lawrence Sher on cinematography, he and Phillips create that sharp grindhouse feeling. It feels gnarly, dark, harsh, with a specific type of bleakness that fills you with sorrow and dread. However, this makes the film look like it’s from the gutter, but that gutter is gorgeous. Every single shot in Joker is a fucking work of art. I currently have a picture of Joker dancing in the bathroom as my wallpaper. That’s how much I appreciate the LOOK of this film overall.

The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.

With that being said, the performances were something that cannot and should not be overlooked. Zazie Beetz was stunning in her appearances on screen. That smile could light up the world, and it even lit up Arthur’s world for a slim amount of time. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t there longer than she needed. Beetz’s character felt more of a plot device for him to exude his fantasies on, and in that, she did her job just right. However, I felt I wanted to know her, but I was also scared FOR her.

Robert De Niro, as the late-night funnyman Murray Franklin, harked back to his King of Comedy days but brings a modern touch of what a lot of late-night hosts are now. His performance brings to mind a bullying aspect of what goes on in comedy that I never paid attention to until this film.

Before we get to the king of this film, Frances Conroy deserves such a standing ovation for her role as Penny Flack. Penny is an interesting character. You don’t know if she’s a good or a bad person. It’s an interesting topic to discuss when you think about it hard enough, because her mental illness and abuse put her in this strange gray area when it comes to Arthur. Conroy displays the vulnerable side of Penny where the mental illness has taken her, and she’s doing her damnedest to protect and get help for her and her son. The sins of her past get unburied, and Conroy continues to display that vulnerability needed for Penny.

Joaquin Phoenix. What can you say about him that hasn’t already been said? Joaquin Phoenix is PERFECT for playing the Joker. I think we all knew that he’d do an incredible job in this film. I don’t think we prepared to feel as much as we did when we actually saw him in this film. He is undeniably one of the most brilliant character actors of our time. He’s also one of the most elevated and expressive actors, as well.

Phoenix, as Arthur, makes you feel so many different types of emotions. You’re uncomfortable with him, yet you want to help him. You want to stay away and get in his head, but you don’t want to stay there for too long. Phoenix is unsettling but brilliant, beautiful, but strange. You can’t take your eyes off of him as he slowly starts to descend into his mental illness and loneliness, and that’s what they want.

Joker feels like a once-in-a-lifetime character study that will probably not be repeated. This film is an impressive and breathtaking step for a filmmaker who hasn’t worked in this genre before. Joker lays out captivating performances with storytelling that’s 100% unsettling but a look that’s drop-dead-gorgeous. Even with all the controversy surrounding it. You need to watch Joker, even just by yourself. It’ll take you down some deep rabbit holes in your brain that you won’t regret going down.



Joaquin Phoenix is WAY too good at his job


Brilliant Character Study of a Notorious Batman Villain


Unsettling Score & Sound design


Scorsese homages


Burned into your brain for life? Uh, yeah.

Insha Fitzpatrick
co-editor in chief of dis/member & rogues portal. hufflepuff. frmly of talks on film runners. craves horror films. loves true crime. tries her best.

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