‘Joker’ hits the mark, just not the one they were aiming for

Photo by Niko Tavernise - © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

“Joker” made a big impact at the box office this weekend with the biggest October opening ever with a $94 million opening weekend. With a phenomenal cast and excellent cinematography, Todd Phillips’ latest movie,  “Joker” earns its record breaking opening to introduce Gotham’s most notorious criminal and explore how an ordinary man came to be the Clown Prince of Crime. 

The movie centers on Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and the small ensemble of characters who guide him along. It’s a new coming-of-age story, following Fleck as he explores independence, love and his own inner self. It dives into trauma, mental illness and unfair societal norms that are just as relevant in our society as they are in Gotham. 

While Phoenix gives an Oscar worthy performance, he still lives in the shadow of the incredible show that Heath Ledger gave in 2008’s The Dark Knight.   From beginning to end, Phoenix dazzles the audience as he is unable to give anything less than a stellar show. A bizarre mix of humor and trauma is exactly what you could expect from a villain who masquerades as a clown. 

A great mixture of music and cinematography makes  “Joker” even more impressive, distinguishing it from other gritty antihero movies. Both aspects maintain the feeling that this movie was based years ago, before the typical Gotham viewers would be used to seeing. 

“Joker” was chock-full of fantastic castmates that make the movie well-worth watching. Arthur’s mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy) is one of his most important companions throughout the film. His neighbor, Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), with whom Arthur is quite taken, also plays an important role in his character development. Arthur is seen idolizing his favorite late-night talk show host, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) throughout the film. Each gives a believable and heartfelt performance that pairs well with the cynical climate set by Phoenix. 

The bad aspects of the film are largely overshadowed by its all-star cast, but it is director Todd Phillips’ lack of attention to detail that makes the movie suffer the most. Viewers are forced to wonder if Phillips has ever been to a hospital, considering his clear misunderstanding of how basic medical equipment works. Whether it be how a heart monitor sounds when it flatlines or how a patient cannot be smothered while hooked up to an oxygen tank, Phillips disregards attention to the small details of the scene which makes it hard to stay invested.

It is hard to believe that Joker would ever become the great rival of Batman based on the age gap between him and Bruce Wayne. Bruce is just a boy during the events of the movie, at least a decade and a half away from putting on the mask, and by that point Arthur Fleck would be pushing sixty. 

As he’s the protagonist, we are meant to sympathize with Arthur during the events of “Joker,” but at times that becomes hard due to his justification of becoming Gotham’s Clown Prince. The city is crime-ridden, and its government is corrupt. Adding in the wealth inequalities thanks to Wayne Enterprises, Arthur allows himself to succumb to madness. 

The movie seems to try hard to emphasize a certain level of mental illness within Arthur, but that is both unnecessary and offensive. Director Todd Phillips seeks to liberate Fleck as he becomes the Joker, and seemingly places the blame on the society that created him rather than Fleck himself who does not stay on his medication. “Joker” failed to be a monumental origin for the Jester of Genocide and instead felt like a two-hour justification for being violent and placing the blame on poor mental health.

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