Out this week in cinemas is the first cinematic outing of the crown prince of clown aka the Joker in his self-titled origin story, Joker.
Now when I say the first cinematic outing I, of course, mean the first time the Joker has been on-screen without his archnemesis Batman. In 2019 we get to answer the question, what is the clown without the bat?
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, with Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro, and Zazie Beetz, Joker is an intimate tale of madness and what destruction it can bring.
What I can first say about the film is that Phoenix is stellar as Arthur. Arthur is a deeply troubled individual trying so very hard to stop himself from falling off the edge. He gobbles down the brief morsels of happiness as a performing clown but nothing ever satiates him. He even tries out as a standup comedian hoping to get the adulation of both the world and his personal hero Murray Franklin (a suitably snarky De Niro).
Nothing can keep his demons away for long though, whether it be the mountains of pills he takes to balance himself out or the ritual flirtation he takes with his neighbour Sophie (Beetz) it’s not long before the “laugh” rears its ugly head.
You see Arthur suffers from a condition where he laughs uncontrollably. This stems from moments of anxiety he suffers and as the story of Joker progresses the tragedy of this condition mutates and worsens. In my eyes, this laugh was the monster itself trying to explode out and Arthur tries so hard to hold it in.
The makeup of a Joker
Everything is (almost) working in perfect harmony in Joker. On that note (I’m on a roll) the score of the film is suitably hollow. There is a depth to it and it’s moving don’t get me wrong but the choice in instruments gave off to me a sense of emptiness and this is to reflect how hollow Arthur feels. It is not until Joker rises that the score and soundtrack begin to take a chaotic and energetic tone. Hats off to Hildur Guðnadóttir for her incredible work.
The cinematography and direction are a mixed bag. The film is shot with many close up shots of Joaquin giving him ample opportunities to show off his skill. In my opinion director, Todd Phillips relied on Phoenix too much but there are many shots of the skeletal husk of Gotham that won me over. We’ve seen Gotham so many times over the decades in film and television and this feels similar in scope to Nolan’s Gotham.
It is only here though that Phillips shares anything with Nolan. There is even a line in the film where Arthur is asked whether he sees himself as a symbol and Arthur tells the person that he did none of this to be a figure of note or symbol.
This is a complete disregard to the Nolan Batman who saw himself as an immortal and indestructible symbol to rally behind. It’s fascinating and I may be reading too much into it but I love that Joker brought this out in me.
The Last Laugh
Joker is a disturbing film. Its titular figure is a mass of contradictions. Trying so hard to find the good in the world but when he tastes the darkness he lets it in. Arthur Fleck’s journey to demonic dolt is a tough watch but an engaging one.
All I can say is this: if this is our new Joker we need Batman more than ever. Stay tuned to Scannain for news, reviews, and much more.