Movie Review: Joker


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Joker is a movie that showed how Arthur Fleck's mental illness affected him and drove him to violence.

I went into the recently debuted Joker movie expecting to watch a prequel to the Batman movies, and although I enjoyed it, it was very different from the kind of “super-villain origin story” I was expecting. The movie was intense and did not involve a hero at all, instead providing a backstory to the infamous villain the Joker.

The movie follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a man with a severe mental illness which causes him to break out into uncontrollable laughter, often at inappropriate times. After losing his job, Fleck is left unable to provide for himself and his sick mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). Arthur is then assaulted on the subway and kills those who assaulted him, who happen to be three rich, Wall Street journalists. Arthur attempts to become a comedian and fails miserably. Things start going better when Arthur is invited to the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) talk show. Arthur becomes enraged towards Murray for not taking him seriously and then shoots him. The movie is concluded by Thomas Wayne fleeing a movie theater with his wife and his child, Bruce. A man in a clown mask shoots both parents, leaving Bruce alone in an alley.

One of the biggest problems I had with this movie was how subtle it was. It never told us motivations directly  It is much easier for me to like a character if I know what motivates their decisions. Without this, it’s hard to become attached to a character. Most of Arthur’s decisions were very well thought out or planned but we never saw the reason behind them, making his murders seem unwarranted and cruel in my opinion.

Another problem I had with the movie was its depiction of mental illness. It showed mental illness as more of an excuse to behave inappropriately rather than what it truly is. One example of a good portrayal of mental illness is Silver Linings Playbook, a movie where a recent graduate of a state Institute must put his social and romantic life back together. I would be fine with showing mental illness as a motive, as long as it didn’t come off as lazy writing. When Penny doesn’t want to tell Arthur he is adopted, it is because of her delusion and fear that he will attack her, however, Arthur is merely frustrated rather than truly angry. He doesn’t even come close to attacking her and reacts in a calm manner. To me, this is lazy writing and directing. I don’t think Penny’s inability to think straight is a legitimate motive for such a complex character.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this movie. Despite its several flaws, it effectively shows the struggle the main character faces on a day-to-day basis. Joaquin Phoenix’s acting is phenomenal and portrays the intensity of Arthur’s mental illness very well. I would recommend this movie to anyone that wants to learn more about the Joker as a character; just be warned that this movie is not for the faint of heart.