Todd Phillips’ new movie ‘Joker’ is certainly not a film to laugh at – in fact, it may just be the best movie of 2019.
The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) through his gradual decent to become the infamous villain we all know as ‘The Joker’.
However, there is nothing comedic or campy about the Arthur Fleck we meet at the beginning of the film. Fleck is a deeply troubled, damaged man that seems to be walking on autopilot through a depressing, lonely existence.
Living with his mom in a broken-down apartment while working part-time as a clown, Arthur Fleck is mocked, ostracized and dismissed by almost everyone he encounters. On top of these struggles, he also lives with a condition that causes him to break into uncontrollable laughter when he’s nervous, which further alienates him from the rest of society.
The setting is a Gotham City that is tense and on the brink of chaos as socio-economic disparity and a growing divide between the rich and the poor has produced a dark, decaying underbelly in the city.
The only thing that seems to bring any semblance of joy into his life is when Arthur dreams of becoming a comedian. He is constantly writing in his diary statements he feels are jokes, things he finds funny even if no one else does.
Through the constant turmoil, disappointment and rejection, we see Arthur spiral away from his depressing reality and into a dark madness. He slowly begins to blur fantasy with reality and loses grip on what is real and what is imagined.
Director Todd Phillips takes care to neither make light of, nor glorify mental illness. Instead, he tells us the story of a deeply disturbed, tortured, sad individual who constantly seeks to cope with unhappiness before finding his purpose through the creation of a deranged alter ego.
Gotham City is seen as a city on the edge of chaos, with tensions between the upper and lower classes at a fever pitch. The city is filled with violence, garbage and decay that is noticeable to all except the wealthy elite who seem oblivious to the storm that is coming.
Arthur Fleck’s gradual and violent journey to become the Joker is so engaging, mainly because of the masterful performance of Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix creates a unique version of the Joker, one we won’t say is better than Heath Ledgers turn in The Dark Knight, but it’s a different, somewhat more tortured, darker version of one of cinema’s most infamous characters. Phoenix has to immediately become the front-runner to win an Academy Award.
This film can be hard to watch, but at the same time it is absolutely impossible to take your eyes off of.
Maybe the movie is not for everyone, and it certainly is not the action packed superhero movie Gotham City has hosted before, but this dark, gritty and brutal tale of a man’s descent into madness might just be the best movie of 2019 and in our opinion, the best comic book based film since ‘The Dark Knight’.