Happy Monday my intrepid comic book fans!
The new hit film by DC, Joker, is directed by Todd Philipps and stars Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character.
After having seen this movie on the big screen I must say I’m floored with the excellent story DC told us here. In this review I share with you my thoughts on this amazing film.
The story opens with Arthur, a lower-class working clown-for-hire. Arthur is gaunt, awkward and shunned for his peculiar uncanny laughter. This laugh is due to a disability the character suffers, which causes him to laugh when he is nervous or sad. Not only is his laugh untimely it also is involuntary and causes him pain.
While waving a store sign Arthur is beaten up by local kids who also destroy his sign. Arthur’s boss doesn’t believe him and docks him his pay for the sign.
While at home Arthur makes dinner for his mother and reassures her everything is ok. The two of them watch a variety show together. Murray Franklin, the show’s host, is Arthur’s idol. In a subsequent scene that flows seamlessly, Arthur appears on the Murray Franklin show. He is called out for his laughter before being lovingly welcomed by the host and audience. Almost instantly, the film cuts back to Arthur at his house where he is still watching the show.
It was at this point I realized that the previous scene was a daydream and that Arthur is a dissociative person by nature.
At work, Randall, a coworker of Arthur’s who seems quite manipulative, had offered him a gun. This backfires on Arthur when the gun falls out of his pants in public. Arthur was entertaining children in the hospital at the time. After being berated by his boss Arthur is fired.
On his way home, Arthur sits motionlessly on the subway. All is still until three young men, well-dressed and drunk, begin accosting a young woman. Per his disorder, Arthur laughs. This upsets the young men because it distracted them. The young men walk over to him while singing “Send in the Clowns.”
Frustrated at his cacophonous laughter, the inebriated socialites begin to beat him. Arthur screams and helps in pain until he finds his gun. The battered clown shoots two of them dead and injures the third. Frightened, the third man limps away. Arthur marches after him and gets off the train. He shoots the wounded assailant repetitively without hesitation.
When Arthur finds a quiet bathroom he begins to dance. (He danced earlier while pointing and before shooting his gun in the apartment). His dance seems intentional and lithe.
That night Arthur goes to an attractive neighbor’s apartment. He immediately seizes her and kisses her before both going inside.
News of the subway killings makes the news. Arthur’s new girlfriend approves of the murders because they were rich jerks. Arthur smiles at this but is intrigued by the news statements made by Thomas Wayne, the billionaire socialite. In the segment Thomas Wayne announces he will run for mayor to fix the city, and that those impoverished citizens who don’t better themselves are ‘clowns.’
Following that, Arthur then chooses to pursue standup comedy and takes his notes with him on stage. While no one laughs at first Arthur notices his neighbor (now date) smile at him. This encourages him and he poses.
The police approach Arthur and question him regarding the subway murder. He says nothing but refers them to his coworker who gave him a gun. Arthur also learns that his mother has written letters to Thomas Wayne. The letters declare that Thomas Wayne is Arthur’s father. This intrigue is interrupted when Arthur’s mother is sent to the hospital.
While at the hospital, Arthur is joined by his new girlfriend who sits with him beside his mom. He looks up at the TV to see Murray Franklin showing a clip of Arthur’s standup gig before mocking him. Arthur’s face flushes with anger.
However, Arthur pursues the thread and decides to confront Thomas Wayne to verify his mother’s story. He first shows up at Wayne Manor where he meets young Bruce Wayne and entertains him. Arthur begins to choke out Alfred Pennyworth, the family butler, before realizing his visit was fruitless. As the city begins to heat up with protests Arthur tracks down Thomas Wayne to a theatre. The inquisitive man stalks Thomas Wayne to the bathroom where he tells him his mother’s story. Thomas Wayne calmly refutes this and tells him that his mother is mentally ill. Furthermore, Thomas Wayne informs Arthur he is adopted and expresses anger over Arthur stalking his house and touching his son. Arthur laughs uncontrollably at this, which angers Wayne who punches him in the face.
By this point, Arthur is puzzled and seeks answers. Arthur goes to Arkham Hospital and asks for records on his mother. He steals the records from the clerk and hides. Beneath a stairway, Arthur opens the documents and learns the painful truth: his mother adopted him and then neglected him; allowing her then-boyfriend to beat Arthur. Those beatings scarred Arthur and caused him a head trauma, which led to his condition. Arthur envisions the report as though it were taking place in front of him. He laughed hard at the news, which began to sound more like sobbing as it progressed. I felt truly and utterly sorry for him.
Arthur returns to the hospital where he tells his mother that his life used to be a tragedy before he realized it was a comedy. He grabs a pillow and suffocates his mother with it. Again, Arthur does not feel remorse after this…he feels a release.
Arthur returns home where he puts on clown makeup in preparation for his appearance on Murray Franklin. Two coworkers appear at the door (one of them Randall). Arthur talks with them nonchalantly before killing Randall with scissors. Arthur’s other coworker cowers in fear, uncertain if Arthur will kill him too. He asks Arthur for permission to leave. Arthur agrees and tells him ‘you were the only one that was nice to me’ before showing him out.
Arthur leaves the apartment and dances his way down the stairs. His energy is frenetic and he sways flamboyantly. This dancing goes on for a while until Arthur is interrupted by the police. The two officers chase him down the street and into the subway. There, a whole host of commuters are wearing clown masks (in protest to Thomas Wayne’s comments). Arthur steals one, which causes a fight that hinders the cops from following him.
Arthur appears on the Murray Franklin show fully dressed in Joker garb, which alarms a producer. Murray waves it off and decides to let Arthur on as he is. Arthur asks the host if he can introduce him as ‘Joker’ to the audience. Murray, without thinking, agrees to this.
Arthur dances in elaborate twists and poses before hopping on stage. Once on stage Arthur makes offhand jokes, confesses to killing the three socialites and vents his frustration with society. Murray accuses him of justifying murder with self-pity. Arthur retorts that society has neglected and abused him before shooting his former idol in the head.
The film cuts to Arthur in a police car. The cop looks at all the rioting and looting and charges Arthur with inciting it. Arthur says ‘it’s beautiful’ before they are hit by an ambulance. Rioters wearing clown masks emerge from the truck and gently place Arthur on the police car. Arthur awakes to a rabble wearing clown masks. He smiles and dances atop the police car as the rioters cheer and burn the city. One of the rioters wearing a clown mask peels off and pursues the Wayne’s. They escaped via a dark alley to avoid the mob. Suddenly the masked figure kills the Wayne’s and young Bruce stands there devastated. The felon says ‘you get what you deserve’ before slinking away in the darkness.
The film cuts to Arkham where Arthur is seated before a psychiatrist. He chuckles as he smokes a cigarette. She asks him ‘What’s so funny?’
Arthur replies ‘you wouldn’t get it.’
The film cuts back to Bruce Wayne standing in the alley beside the bodies of his parents. The camera zooms away.
The film finally cuts to Arthur running away leaving behind bloody footprints. An orderly chases after him. The screen finally cuts to black.
This movie was a phenomenon! I have never seen a film that entered the protagonist’s mind and focused almost solely on things through his perception. In fact, I’d say 93% of this film is through the eyes of Arthur specifically.
About the movie’s message: I believe Joker is a film about the lonely and disenfranchised members of society that worsen with neglect. While abandonment and mistreatment of the marginalized does not justify murder it does merit questioning. How can we as a society prevent the Joker from ever coming to be? We must treat others with care and respect, and we must look out for those who are mentally ill and hurting.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Tune in for more comic book movie reviews. Thank you.