Joker Review: Put On A Happy Face

Credit:, Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Send in the clowns, for Gotham’s iconic villain, has made his origin story debut in all of its haunting, masterful beauty. Given the dark nature of the character, this movie is unapologetic in its telling of the Joker’s tragic, yet intriguing upbringing, and there is a lot to praise here. All of the performances, like that of the legendary Joaquin Phoenix, shine tremendously. The way the story grips you like no other; the descent into madness throws your moral compass all over the place. The most powerful element, however, would be the social commentary, with audience members left with messages on the importance of human sympathy, mental illness, and the ways that social divides impact our lives.

The movie in itself is undoubtedly a bold move for Warner Brothers to make. For so long, all of us have seen Joker as just being the arch-enemy of Batman, with his embodiment of evil leaving little question beyond his criminality. To decide to flesh out his character from scratch fully might have had the risk of humanizing the villain unnecessarily. However, upon seeing the film for myself, I think it is safe to say the boldness is the right choice. Not only were any doubts relieved, but my expectations were exceeded.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a clown-for-hire who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. However, it is evident from the start that Arthur is an outcast, constantly bullied and rejected by others in the ugly underbelly of Gotham. It also doesn’t help that he is struggling both mentally and physically, and suffers from a condition that causes uncontrollable laughter, most likely being Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). Even with all that, Arthur still tries his best to live life, whether it’s socializing with his co-workers or taking care of his elderly mother. Slowly, but inevitably, however, society closes in on him and takes Arthur spiraling down into madness and chaos.

Credit:, Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

One exceptional aspect of this movie that has turned the heads of both fans and haters would be the actors’ performances, especially that of Joaquin Phoenix’s titular lead. Over the many years of Joker portrayals, the bar was undoubtedly held high. Both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger did an outstanding job in their roles, with the latter even receiving a posthumous Oscar. Not that this was ever a contest, but now with Phoenix’s take on the character, his Joker could very well become an iconic reference for years to come as I could not stop myself from being completely immersed in all his little emotions and mannerisms. Sometimes, I went from feeling terrible sympathy towards Arthur to being in complete shock and terror, all in the same scene. Other members of the cast, such as Robert De Niro, who plays a charismatic late-night show host, do a fantastic job as well. Each character factors into the story with unique and careful precision.

The story itself is also quite daring and masterfully told. There were many moments in the movie that perfectly fit the kind of character of the Joker, where you can’t help but marvel at all the raw brutality. With obvious inspirations from films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, sometimes to a fault, Joker does its job well in establishing the everyman type-of-guy protagonist with a fate that is bigger than them. It is this unconventional character dynamic where Arthur goes from being a poor, working clown to a psychotic killer that makes the story’s progress so riveting. 

Throughout the story, it is evident that the Joker’s past is a tragic one, and with each terrible altercation Arthur goes through, the audience sympathizes with him. Once the Joker finally does turn to madness and murder, however, we end up feeling sickened at what he does, but we still understand him. It is this moral roller-coaster that we, as people, feel that makes Joker’s message that much more powerful.

With a movie like Joker, the masses might jump too early to the conclusion that this movie is making a statement that praises violence and anarchy as a solution to our problems. However, I would say that this movie’s central message is the exact opposite. Yes, the film showcases all the blood and chaos that we have come to expect from the Joker, but the way that the story was structured was not meant to glorify the acts committed. It was more so to incite thoughtful discussion of the subject matter. When I left the theater, I did not once think to myself that I should shoot up everyone who has wronged me and upset the established order. Instead, I left feeling that we all have a responsibility to empathize and cooperate, regardless of our social class or personality. 

I believe this film has done nothing more than lifting the veil away from this society of hate that we live in today. There are people in this world who hurt and cast out others less fortunate than them, just as Gotham has done to Arthur. By having Joker bring attention to this harsh reality, we may spare a bullied soul who could cause harm to themselves or worse. In addition, the film also emphasizes the importance of mental health services and how those of us who are struggling with psychological issues shouldn’t be turned away and ignored. This movie is almost a cautionary tale in a way, warning us to be more careful when it comes to how we treat others.

As a gritty, thought-provoking character study, Joker has proven itself to be as enjoyable as it is tense. There are still some nitpicks and some staggering similarities to other films of its kind. However, this movie is much too important to miss out on, so do give this film a chance. It is harrowing, captivating, mesmerizing, and might change you for the better.