Gotham city provides a grim reflection of the modern society we live in today, where the rich can prey upon the poor and get away with it. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ is a modernised telling of one of DC’s most iconic villains, but where the only true villain is society. But it is not the eerie reality of this film, nor the incredible performance by Phoenix that make it a hands down film of the year. It’s the fact it strays away from the classic narrative and places the story right in the hands of its audiences.
There are other adaptations of the Joker, such as Heath Ledger’s chaotic evil version which won its Oscar for his troubling and exaggerated representation. However, Phoenix’s should win his for the complete opposite reasons. His version gives a name to the character and provides the audiences with everything they need to empathise with the character without giving them a single reason to want to. Phoenix’s devotion to the role allow for an accurate depiction of mental health and the effects society can have.
Mental health is an important aspect of Joker, Arthur Fleck suffers from a variety of illnesses, however none are as disturbing as the Pseudobulbar affect. The illness causes the character to burst into laughter in inappropriate moments which provides unsettling moments that provoke awkward laughs from audiences’ members in an attempt to break the tension. This interaction with the audience is a perfect example of how the film demands the attention of its audience.
The main criticism of the film is ironically the entire idea of the film. The Joker originally is a character without a past, an enigma, whose sole purpose is to cause chaos for his nemesis, Batman. The character himself explained in the comic The Killing Joke that: “If I am going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” However, this doesn’t mean that director Todd Phillips has simply binned the origins of the character. The film itself is a multiple choice, with audiences picking and choosing which aspects of it are reality or in Arthur’s head. The idea that the whole film could potentially be one big joke played on the audience by the Killer Clown is just one of hundreds of debates over the continuity of the film.
Credit is due to Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, whose ability to breathe life into the dead corpse that is Gotham city provides little need for dialogue as the bleak grimness of the world speaks a thousand words. However, scriptwriter Scott Silver seems to have taken a much more simplistic approach to the dialogue, and it surprisingly links arms with every other aspect of this film and walks into the not-so-bright, garbage-filled sunset.