Review: “The Joker” (2019)
The DC Comics “Batman” trilogy The Dark Knight” told the full story of the Batman. The first of the trilogy was “Batman Begins” (2005) with an all-star cast including Christian Bale. Later, “The Dark Knight” (2008), starred the late Heath Ledger (Posthumous Academy Award) and “The Dark Knight Rises (2012)” finished off the trilogy, The Joker first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book “Batman” April 25, 1940 and has been a consistent villain, played by various actors including Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto.
“The Joker” (2019) is very different film than you might have expected. This film delves into an intense character study of Arthur, an authentically “mentally Ill” man without any recourse or even remedy. Arthur has been abused in various ways since a small child. He has “never experienced a happy moment in his entire life”. He absorbs brutality as an adult from bullies all around him with no conception of recourse. It’s just a usual part of his life. He attends weekly interviews with some variety of public health nurse who tells Arthur he needs to try harder with no real vision of what may make a difference in his life. She gives him prescriptions for several different drugs and he goes about his life as if on rails.
Then a well meaning friend gives Arthur a gift that he really doesn’t understand at first, but which comes into a clear meaning later during one of the familiar bullying episodes that postmark his life. From then on, mental illness exacerbated by abuse takes on a different vibe. The chronic misery and anguish of brain dysfunction begins to see an outlet never conceived of before, an outlet that taps some previous skill sets previously concealed by shambolic brain wiring.
The previously simple man evolves to a very simple but dangerous man indeed. A nemesis of Batman for 80 years of DC Comics. The performance by Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional. A florid, Pagliacci-like sad clown turned mad-on-a-mission clown. If it’s possible to transmit the emotions of anxiety, depression, pathos and confused life-paths from a screen to humankind in an audience, beware. This film accomplishes that intent extremely accurately via the direction of Todd Phillips (Borat- 2006, War Dogs- 2018), Produced by Bradley Cooper et al and cinematography by Lawrence Sher. “The Joker” is a vivid connection for Arthur to his expanding universe, brutally shared with the audience.
This examination of the character and life course of the hopeless mentally ill with no real recourse to anything better is truly remarkable as the viewer experiences an evolution to one of the possible, maybe inevitable outcomes that society facilitates.
Interesting aside: Watch for “White Room” by Cream near the film finale.
I give this film 5 of 5 whiteface makeups. Requires attention and focus. Some violence. Adults only. Must see.