‘I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realise, it’s a f**king comedy.’ Joaquin Phoenix as Joker.
Personally, whenever someone has asked me to pick one side, Marvel or DC, I have never been able to make a choice because while Marvel does have many amazing characters and plot-lines, DC has the Gotham Universe. Batman’s Gotham has the iconic Arkham Asylum, and the asylum has one of the most notorious and undoubtedly one of my favourite villains, Joker. As a religious follower of the Gotham universe, when I heard that Todd Phillips is making a movie centred on Joker, I was both filled with anticipation and dread. Joker is such a massive source of intrigue that his hidden identity has somehow always added to his madness and to give such a character an origin story is a brave choice, one with many risks. As Joker released, it was certainly met with the risks that it took, controversies arose around showing violence rooted in mental illness and suggestive attempts to make people sympathise with it. Yet, these controversies aside, when I walked into the theatre and sat on my seat, I was more worried about the story not doing justice to the maddest villain of them all, that’s how big a fan I am of Joker and when the movie ended I was left with many thoughts.
Firstly, I never really doubted Joaquin Phoenix not doing justice to this role because, while Heath Ledger has set a very high standard with his portrayal of the Joker, Joaquin is also a great actor, who has time and again proved his brilliance. Needless to say, Joaquin’s Arthur Fleck, who descends into the madness that is the Joker, was one of the best things about the movie. There really are no words that can accurately praise Phoenix for his acting, he was simply phenomenal. Secondly, the storyline works really well as Joker’s origin story. The psyche of why is Joker the way he is has always lead to some amazing fan theories and Phillip’s take on it really delves deep into the psychosis of a man, his journey towards absolute insanity, into another persona that symbolises the world’s collective philosophy of championing happiness no matter what and the irony of it. The world is a messed up place and the Joker somehow holds a mirror to this world, reminding us that his laughter arises out of an acknowledgment of this fact.
The exploration of mental illness and our society’s ignorant attitude towards it is vivid in the movie. The divide between the rich and the poor, the sheer arrogance of Thomas Wayne calling the poor clowns for not being able to do anything with their lives, is the very fodder on which the Joker thrives. I found it very interesting to experience the atmosphere that the movie created in the theatre. The violent scenes are especially gruesome but when Arthur Fleck finally becomes the Joker, the audience cheered for him. It would be wrong to say that the story in any way justifies the Joker’s existence or makes one sympathise with him. I felt that Phillips in no way tries to to do this, he simply tells you that this is the reason why the Joker is the way he is. A world where no one listens to him, no one shows him decency, no one cares for the dying, no one cares for the living, such a world is the birthplace of the Joker, a man who was intensely lonely, a comedian whose mother called him Happy, a man who killed another man just for the sake of delivering a punchline of his joke.
Thirdly, the movie is a visual marvel. Faultless symmetrical frames in the wide shots, the contrast of colour tone wherein the movie has a dominant dull blue intonation but Arthur is always in contrast a more yellow and warm presence, the low angles, and my favourite scene, the one in the climax when the Joker stands atop a car amidst cheering people all wearing Joker make-up and masks, visually Phillips has made a masterpiece. Fourthly, the end of the movie is now a subject for debate for all Batman fans. The scene of Joker fleeing Arkham is a reminiscent of the his presence in the actual Batman comics but the ending is still rather ambiguous. For a moment I actually felt that maybe the entire movie is just Arthur’s figment of imagination. I read a reddit account which even yentas far as to suggest that maybe Batman himself is just a specimen of Arthur’s imagination. We see a shot of Bruce Wayne, a very young boy, standing with the corpses of his killed parents in the alley who were shot by one the supporters of the Joker the night Joker became himself, and the Joker finds it funny. Maybe it was this visual that the Joker used to imagine the Gotham where he fights against his arch nemesis, Batman. There are many theories about the ending circulating on the internet but I find this one the most intriguing and true to how I felt about the ending as well. Arthur is shown to be delusional, maybe the entire Batman universe is simply Arthur’s delusion.
Lastly, I would say that I did miss Batman in some respects because I am conditioned to see Joker as Batman’s villain but I also feel that herein lies the brilliance of the movie. It doesn’t happen very often that a villain gets to be the protagonist of a story. Villainy is always the anti thesis of heroism and when one looks back at movies like American Psycho one is reminded that sometimes our villains are heroes in a world where the society itself is the villain. I would also like to say that I really liked his dance routines. Todd Phillips recently spoke about the bathroom dance scene that was not a part of the script saying that eventually that scene became what it did because he always felt that Joker had music within him.
Comedy, at one point Joker says in the movie, is subjective. We see this throughout the film, some people found it funny to beat Arthur up because he was dressed like a joker for his work, some people found it funny to make fun of his comic material that he used as a comedian. All in all, Joker is a movie that does an incredible job in portraying the psyche of a man who called himself Joker and lead Gotham towards chaos because that is his kind of comedy.
Text Nidhi Verma