I’ve seen Joker twice since it opened. The movie is “based” on the Joker from the comics, and director Todd Phillips does a nice job dropping some Easter eggs for Joker/Batman fans. But this is definitely NOT a comic book movie or a movie for kids. I believe the film is nothing short of a masterpiece. A genuine piece of modern art.
Joker is so much of a deep dive into the character of Arthur Fleck/Joker that Joaquin Phoenix is on screen for almost every minute of the movie. It is entirely from his perspective. Phoenix gives an incredible performance as both sympathetic Fleck and delusional Joker. While Heath Ledger’s Joker was also amazing, and at the time, a stunning new interpretation on the character, I believe Phoenix’ portrayal goes even further. It is VERY different from Ledgers. Ledger was a criminally insane Joker throughout the whole movie. A true anarchist version of the character. Phoenix, on the other hand, is a mentally insane man who allows the public’s perception of him to actually mold who he becomes...the Joker. I was ENTHRALLED with every minute of the movie. Phoenix nails everything about Arthur Fleck; his pained mannerisms, his laughing “condition”, his awkward interactions and his delusional (and sometimes painfully true) view on society and the people around him. Towards the last 3rd of the movie, as the shift from Fleck to Joker really takes hold, you can see Phoenix’ mannerisms, voice and confidence change.
It’s funny, after the first viewing I told my friends I didn’t know if I could see it a second time so soon (I had pre-ordered tickets a couple of weeks ago for both nights). The movie was that disturbing and taxing. But as the day was leading up to watching it again my anticipation and excitement grew. I actually enjoyed the movie more the second time as I was able to truly focus on nuances and details during the second viewing.
I’m not sure I understand the controversy associated with the movie. Sure, there is violence in it. But nothing that glorifies it or sensationalizes it like so many other popular movies. The idea that the movie makes a villain such as the Joker sympathetic has also been a critique. The viewer will definitely sympathize with Fleck. But I also think the viewer will identify the Joker’s responses to his perceived (and in many cases real) societal slights as over the top, repugnant and unjustified. I viewed the movie as an intimate and introspective look into an individual’s mental illness and the societal pushes and circumstances that could lead to that vulnerable person committing unspeakable acts. It’s very deep. I think the comic character, Joker, was ripe for this type of “origin” storytelling and I give Phillips kudos for having the genius to put the two together. Of course, NONE of this works, without the Oscar worthy performance of Phoenix. I can’t think of a performance over the last decade that was more deserving of an Oscar.
My second viewing of the movie was at an IMAX screen, and although the movie is an intimate story with no CGI or special effects, it really is the best way to see it. Phillips captures a 70’s/80’s vibe with the way he filmed it but it also has a modern sharpness to the imagery that looks incredible on an IMAX screen. You don’t often leave a theater feeling that you didn’t just see a movie but instead that you “experienced” a film, that will happen after you see Joker. I will be purchasing this movie on 4K Blu Ray as soon as it is available on Amazon pre-order.