Film Review: Joker

Pictured: Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck

Shaochen Shi
November 30, 2019

Joker was definitely one of the most memorable movies released in 2019. 

In a decadent metropolis, Gotham City, a miserable comedian named Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is slowly being pushed to insanity. Like any fictional city in the early 80s, everyone in the subway wears suits while people in the streets starve, and drug use and social ills are rampant. Unemployment is spiking, crime is at an all time high, and financial ruin for Gotham is certain, as evidenced by the city suddenly yanking away desperately needed social services like the medication and therapy that Arthur depends on. Luckily, billionaire Thomas Wayne grandstands as a candidate for mayor who promises that he alone can save the city from disaster. But Arthur, who was being bullied by three businessmen who worked at Wayne Enterprises, Thomas’ company, finds this claim especially funny. Why? You’ll have to see the film to find out. 

The settings and visual aesthetics in Joker play an important role in the transformation of Arthur. The warm light of the city streetlamps and the reflection of the cold electric light in the subway, the graffiti and the trash everywhere, the bright sun that shines outside the window of Gotham Hospital, the exploding smoke grenades in the night; all of these things contribute to this unique story. From the dreadful pianos to the classical jazz, to the rhythmic beats and the echoes with barely any sense of melody, the music in Joker is a reflection of Arthur’s mind. He bursts with hope in this desolate city, yet society slaps him in the face with greater misery, which eventually ends Arthur’s life and begins that of  Joker.

This movie involves a great deal of symbolism. The gun that Arthur is obsessed with is the power that allows him to strike back at those who wish him ill. However, it is also the reason why the maniacal villain of lore is born. The mask and makeup in Joker serve as key elements throughout the movie. At first, they protect from sorrow, then provide a disguise when the public rallies around those symbols. When Arthur begins to see his life as a comedy rather than a tragedy, they are symbols of himself, as he no longer needs a mask. To an extent, Joker is already a symbol that brings a specific meaning to the audience when the movie ends

The characters in this movie are, like those of other good films, mirrors of the messages that the movie wants the audience to understand. The character Randall is a friend that helped and harmed Arthur at the same time. Gary, a little-person, serves as a foil for Arthur, as he is frequently abused as well. Talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, whose role is a direct reference to his previous roles in the films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy) is at first the inspiration and a hero to Arthur, as he indirectly saved his life multiple times when Arthur was able to resist his suicidal feelings because of Murray’s show. Murray is a personal saviour that took the role of father in fatherless Arthur’s mind. Yet, when Arthur saw Murray’s mockery of his comedy, he became enraged as he ‘betrayed’ Arthur, and thus lost his holiness in the man’s eyes. The relationship between Arthur and his mother is similar but darker. Arthur’s Oedipus complex contrasts with the fact that his mother suffers from maladies both physical and mental. All of these things together help Arthur become the Joker, a creation of society.

Go watch it now if you haven’t.

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