Joaquin Phoenix: the perfect Joker?

Riasat Raihan | Published: 00:00, Oct 13,2019

Riasat Raihan, joker, Jaoquin Phoenix, Christopher Nolan, The Dark Night, taxi Driver, Robert de Nero, Heath Ledger, Tim Burton, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Batman, comic characters, DC movie universe

Todd Phillip’s Joker (2019) has created hype among movie lovers. Many are arguing that Jaoquin Phoenix might just out-performed Heath Ledger’s Joker and many are saying he was not as good as Ledger. The movie shows us how Joker loses his sanity after going through isolation, humiliation and how a man is abused already in a mentally vulnerable state. Phoenix utilises those vulnerabilities as a driving force in his character and transform that energy in the most unpredictable and destructive ways, writes Riasat Raihan    

SINCE its announcement, Joker has become the most awaited and anticipated movies to watch out for. Finally, on the October 4 Joker was released worldwide and people went crazy after watching this film. Did Joker really match the hype? Did Joaquin Phoenix really outperform Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan directed ‘The Dark Knight’? Well, without any further due, let’s dissect the movie and its components.

Joker became 2019’s most anticipated movie after the trailer got released. Directed by Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips, the movie demonstrates the origin story of one the most iconic comic book villain of all time. To be honest, when I first learnt that Todd Phillips was going to co-write and direct the film, I had my doubts about the film. But Phillips proved me wrong and I’ll come to that part later in my review. My doubts started to fade when I first saw Jaoquin Phoenix as the Joker in posters. I never thought that I would witness such brilliance and greatness on the screen.

The film is based on 1980’s Gotham City. During that time, there were big political and economic unrest in Gotham. The entire movie is placed around the character of Arthur Fleck. The character of Arthur Fleck was written as a cloak and dagger person, working for a clown company. Joker is an iconic character in DC comics and its origin story has been evolved through generations. Through many Batman films, we’ve seen many brilliant portrayals of this psychotic clown. But first thing first, it isn’t a Batman movie. Although Bruce Wayne has been cast but it’s a solo film about the backstory of the prince of crime in Gotham City.

Initial story of the Joker was him falling down into a chemical waste to leading to his green hair and bleached skin which we have seen in Tim Burton’s Batman ( 1989), played by the great Jack Nicholson. But the process of story-telling and character development has been evolved throughout the decades and current audiences seek more of a believable story where characters take place organically through human experience and breeding. And this film gives us exactly that, why and how did Arthur Fleck rise as the crime prince of Gotham.

Generally we are used to seeing that one event leads to transformation of a character in comic book movies, but the Joker is completely different from that. It shows us how Arthur Fleck loses his sanity after going through isolation, humiliation and how a man is abused already in a mentally vulnerable state. Phoenix utilises those vulnerabilities as a driving force in his character and transform that energy in the most unpredictable and destructive ways.

This is not a typical superhero film where lot of actions would take place like all the Marvel films. In this movie you will simply witness the story of Arthur Fleck through motion pictures. For me, this is one of the movies where you are rooting for Arthur and you want him to get help. At some points, you want that he gets the help and try to build up his life from scratch again. You want everything to be alright for him, not to lose into his manic state. But absolute anarchy can lead humans to do many horrible things and that’s what Joker portrays.

This movie showcased to us that the Joker has been created as a product of his upbringing and social and mental humiliation. Arthur saw all manners of rejections in his whole life. Joker connects some nodes to some of Scorsese’s films. Despite its roots and vulnerabilities, Joker is closer in tone to Martin Scorsese directed ‘Taxi Driver’ than anything from Marvel or DC canon. Throughout the film Arthur’s inner rage and his deprecation for this immoral city, he goes into despair and sets violence and destruction as a solution. There are nodes also to another Scorsese film, ‘The King of Comedy’ which makes the casting of Robert De Niro in this film as a talk show host with whom Arthur is obsessed with, it’s a masterstroke.

There are some violence and brutal deeds done by Joker which questions his sanity. The film exposes the shocking brutality on screen even if you get goose-bumps. Every horrific thing Arthur does, makes you unbearable but ends with a comic note. The build-up to the actual violence is slow and intense; it feels like the makers are teasing with your discomfort. The film is made accurately; both its craft and storytelling are solid. In the end, I was wondering what messages are being sent out to the audience. That violence is an acceptance solution in hopeless and sceptical times? I don’t think it is very responsible.

After watching Heath Ledger’s performance in ‘The Dark Knight’, like everyone else, I was blown away. The realness he had brought into the character was superb. Maybe it was the first time for me where I rooted for the villain rather than rooting for Batman. I was sure that nobody can beat Heath’s portrayal of the Joker, until I saw Jaoquin Phoenix.

People who love good cinema and good content of cinema, they know what a capable actor Jaoquin is. From ‘Gladiator’ to ‘Walk the line’ to ‘The master’, he has proven that he is a true artist and can do any character. In this movie, Jaoquin has crossed every number to become the ultimate Joker in DC universe. From his expressions to his Joker laugh, he nailed every little detail in the movie. You will not be able to look away from the screen whenever he appears. You just watch him and keep watching him.

The character of Joker is very complex and iconic. And Joaquin Phoenix was the perfect choice for this role. This is his film. He is in almost every frame of the movie. After watching his performance, you will see a new face of pain, loneliness and socially isolation. He does it effortlessly. I felt that there was never a moment in this film where Phoenix loses his finesse. It was an effortless performance. He set a new bar of method acting in this film. For me I think he will get an Oscar nomination for this film without any doubt and I will not be surprised if he wins it.

Earlier I said that I had my doubts when I first learnt that Todd Phillips would be directing the film. To be honest, I thought he wouldn’t live up to the expectations. But honestly, I was really impressed after seeing the movie. His storytelling was top notch. The way he used lights, camera angles and dynamic way to tell Arthur’s story, it was brilliant. Lawrence Sher’s cinematography was absolutely amazing. Despite its cons, Todd Phillips manages to showcase a compelling story through good cinema.

Riasat Raihan is a member of the New Age Youth team

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