‘Joker’: A new look at an old character

A reinvention of the iconic supervillain


By Nathan Balk King, Collegian Correspondent

“Joker,” which the general population initially expected to be another gritty antihero origin movie and a salvation for incels everywhere, has far exceeded expectations. I walked into the theater expecting to watch a subpar superhero villain flick and laugh about it afterward. What I got instead was a cinematic and atmospheric experience like no other adaptation of a comic book character seen thus far. It’s a disturbingly sad and gripping story that goes beyond chaos for the sake of chaos and expands Joker beyond the classic psychopathic crime lord the audience thought they already knew.

The movie is based in a 1981 pre-Batman Gotham and it absolutely sucks all the time. Illustrated with a drab color palette and aggressive inhabitants, life for the lower-middle class of Gotham is hard and never ending. Although executed amazingly, the constant oppressive atmosphere of Gotham society noticeably lacks subtlety at times. The first thing the audience hears is a radio news broadcast detailing the many problems of Gotham. The broadcaster directly states that crime is rampant, there’s garbage litters the streets, the gap between the rich and the poor is devastating, and the city now has a problem with “super rats”. Throughout the movie, graffiti and poor city management cake every possible surface uninhabited by the rich. As un-subtle as it is sometimes, it’s a small problem in comparison with the film’s incredible cinematography and soundtrack. Every scene is beautifully and thoughtfully shot, and with its amazing soundtrack, Joker has one of the most atmospheric experiences this season. There’s not a single moment where color, lighting and composition fall short. It creates a tone that interacts with the characters and subtly represents how they see and feel about the world. There were several moments in the theater when I wanted to pause the movie and just stare at the screen.

Director Todd Phillips so perfectly depicts Gotham’s cruel and bleak environment that it leaves a sour taste in the audience’s mouth. It’s depressing, grey, incredibly sad and also a representation of systemic poverty. So much so that the city becomes a character itself; a story told through cinematography, music and every interaction our protagonist Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) has with it. Arthur Fleck himself is a skinny, mentally ill clown who takes care of his mother in a run-down apartment building. He’s a result of (and to some extent a representation of) the issues that plague Gotham at its core. Everyone, like Arthur, is just trying to survive but can never catch a break. After Arthur is attacked in the opening shot of the film, he is framed by his coworker and the funding for his therapy is cut. All it takes is one more thing to push him over the edge.

Unpacking the plot and themes, “Joker” has so much to offer without having to say too much. Instead, Phillipssubtly conveys some themes while maintaining a cohesive and compelling story that calls the audience to think. “Joker” is a fascinating new insight into a well-known character by portraying him as a complex person rather than an absolutely evil narcissist.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is fantastic, as always, as he manages to bring a new and different life to The Joker’s character. He’s almost on par with Heath Ledger’s iconic 2008 performance , but presents a new and refreshing take that doesn’t alienate Joker from the audience’s sympathy. Unlike some actor’s portrayal of the character, Phoenix made the Joker a personrather than a caricature of some evil clown. Known for his roles in “Her,” “Gladiator” and surprisingly “Brother Bear,” he’s one actor whose work is truly touching on a level not many other actors are. His devotion to the role and craft is astounding, going so far as losing weight and getting hit by a taxi for the role.

Part of what the film is trying to say is “this could be you,” with rioters in the film’s phrase “we’re all clowns.” Whether you believe it or not is up to you. Maybe if you were living in Gotham, Arthur Fleck’s madness wouldn’t seem so out of reach, or even like madness at all compared to the rest of the world. Gotham’s glaring socio-economic inequality that keeps the rich thriving at the expense of the lives, happiness and mental health of the poor is to some extent a reflection of our own society.

As a whole, everything comes together beautifully. The acting, story, cinematography and music are so gripping you won’t even care that you’ve had to pee for the last hour, because what’s on the screen is just too goodto look away. You can’t miss a single beat. It’s a very competent, put-together film, with such a unique and bold presence that it’s incomparable to other DC or comic book movies. “Joker” is easily one of the best movies of 2019, and will without a doubt gather a strong response from every one of its audience members.

Nathan Balk King can be reached at [email protected]