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Edition Reviews: Joker (2019)

The Edition, in partnership with Schwack Cinema, brings readers a monthly review of movies on offer, serving as encouragement or warning (as the case may be), for moviegoers in Male' City, and movie-lovers, everywhere.

Shahudha Mohamed
07 November 2019, MVT 10:44
The official poster of Joker, directed by Todd Phillips. PHOTO/WARNER BROS
Shahudha Mohamed
07 November 2019, MVT 10:44

IMDB - 8.8/10

Written and directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stands out in stark contrast to the well-received comedies like the Hangover trilogy that were also written and directed by the Americal filmmaker.

It is quite clear why this gritty, dark film by Warner Bros. was surrounded by controversy with its release. Joker takes a close and unapologetic look into the grim realities surrounding perceptions of mental illness and how an apathetic society, combined with a series of serious misfortunes, can push a struggling patient over to the dark side.

Described by some as a movie that excuses violence and garners sympathy for psychopaths and mass shooters, Joker tells the story from the villain’s POV, fleshing out reasons behind every single violent act committed by Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a struggling rent-a-clown living with his mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy) in a shabby apartment in Gotham City circa 1981.

However, one could argue that anyone who boils down this daring piece of film into something that “glorifies revenge and could inspire similarly demoralized men” completely fails to grasp the actual message of the movie, especially since the craziest Joker trend following its release were various tourists flocking to the Bronx for a snapshot on the ‘Joker stairs’.

Amongst all the controversy, there was one aspect of the movie that received unanimous praise and hardly any criticism — Joaquin Phoenix’s impressive acting. The three-time Oscar nominee delivered as the depressed, troubled clown, just as he delivered in his previous well-received films Walk the Line, The Master and Gladiator.

From the signature Joker laugh, mannerisms, subtle facial expressions, right down to the eyes often glazed over with tears, Joaquin’s performance remained flawless through the movie and outshone every other actor on-scene with him. Losing approximately 24 kilograms for the role, Joaquin dances in the frame with a haunting quality that leaves the audience holding their breaths.

I, for one, definitely held my breath through a considerable part of the movie.

The movie is dotted with insanely powerful scenes, such as the one where Joaquin is dancing on the Bronx stairway, as wannabe stand-up comedian Arthur completes his transformation into the psychopathic, violent and murderous Joker. Arthur Fleck’s character and all the misfortunes that fell upon him would pull any empaths’ heartstrings even while he descended into madness, echoing loudly that every action has consequences.

Since Joaquin’s incredible acting captivates the viewers so thoroughly, the movie’s shortcomings do not stand out as much as it would have otherwise. I personally felt that the writers should have explored the mental illness narrative a bit more, personalising Joker’s struggles instead of portraying all the generic symptoms of psychotic disorders through one character.

As far as aesthetics go, though, the bright neon lights of Gotham City coupled with the monotonous music adds drama to the thriller without losing any appeal. Frank Sinatra’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘That’s Life’ particularly stood out for me and echoes differently in my mind since I watched Joker.

Of course, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a powerful movie that delves into a controversial topic without holding back — and that in itself makes it a movie worth watching. Joker is a film that will definitely leave a lasting impact if viewed through an empathetic lens, instead of focusing on the technicalities.

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