By Jocelyn Illing, October 8 2019 —
Sometimes you come out of the theatre after watching a film and know almost instantly if you loved or hated it. Other times, it seems difficult to really pin-point just exactly how you felt about it. This was the experience I had for hours after watching Todd Phillips’s latest film Joker.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is the man who would later become the infamous Joker of Batman fame. Fleck is a loner in the truest sense of the word. He lives with his mother in a run-down apartment and has no friends apart from his co-workers — who you can barely count as friends — and his neighbour who he develops a crush on. To mask his depression, Fleck spends his days working as a clown, performing gigs at children’s hospitals and closing sales for department stores. However, what Fleck most desires is to be a comedian, to make people laugh. Throughout the film we watch as Fleck strives to reach his goals and how his inner demons, as well as the crumbling society around him, transform him into the villain we know.
My hesitation to profess my love for this film lies in what many would consider to be its more controversial elements, the most prominent being its portrayal of violence. Unlike many violent films, in which I as a viewer am able to distance myself from the violence and determine that what is happening is wrong, Joker has a strange effect on the viewer. I’m not saying that the film promotes violence, but it does not necessarily condemn it. Fleck is a truly troubled character, and it seemed as if we were supposed to sympathize with him, leading to him not being truly punished for his crimes. However, because of my previous knowledge of the film, I was able to realign my emotions and remind myself that Fleck is truly a villain and that his actions are strikingly evil.
Although the film’s intentions and execution can be debated, there is one thing that no one can deny — Phoenix’s performance was phenomenal. Watching him onscreen, you become totally lost in the character. From his incredibly creepy laugh to his menacing stare, Phoenix had me totally transfixed — in the most uncomfortable way — for the entirety of the film’s two-hour run. His performance was aided by an outstanding soundtrack, and the use of extreme close-ups. By coming up close and personal to the man himself, we as the audience are put into a place that is both uncomfortable and fascinating, as we are able to analyze his every word and facial movement. I wouldn’t be surprised if, come January, Phoenix is nominated for an Academy Award. With three nominations already under his belt, it seems like it’s time for him to finally claim the prize.
In the end, what I think is most important to take away from this film is that it is not a film to watch passively. It requires you to think about its controversial moments and decide whether or not they are justified within the film. It does not matter whether or not you agree with what everyone else is saying — what matters is that you thought about it.