Movie Review- Joker

Joaquin Phoenix Portrays the Ultimate Anti-Hero in Todd Phillips’ Modern Masterpiece


Image courtesy of

Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker

Joe Eckstein, Contributor

Let’s get this over right away. “Joker” is not your typical comic book film.

If you come in with expectations of the next “Dark Knight,” you will be incredibly disappointed in the result.

Rather than take the easy way out and make a cash grab of a film revolving around special effects galore and an A-list cast, director Todd Philipps turns the Clown Prince of Crime’s backstory into one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking character pieces of the decade.

The Joker has always been an enigma of a character. There has never been a backstory on him, making him a standout amongst other comic-book villains. Fans often question what made him who he is. After watching this film, you realize that there is something much worse than the bite of a radioactive creature, or a vat of acid; it’s ourselves.

Philipps takes a page out of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and crafts an atmosphere similar to that of 1970s’ New York. We even see a modern-day version of Robert De Nero’s Travis Bickle in Arthur Fleck, portrayed brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix. Much like Bickle, we see a cultural divide between Arthur and society, as both characters simply want to fit in, but struggle to do so. Just when you think things are beginning to go well for each character, they are sent into a corkscrew of events that starts a metamorphosis for their development.

Characters and environment aren’t the only things that are similar to the Scorsese classic. The cinematography in this film is dark and gritty, giving off a somber vibe to the entirety of the film. The macabre scenes are lit up by police and ambulance lights, compared to headlights and street lamps in “Taxi Driver.”

This film isn’t able to achieve its success without Phoenix. This is one of the very rare performances where it is hard to see the actor, only the character on screen. The commitment to this role is at times painful to watch. Seeing Arthur’s ribs and spine stick out while having a manic episode sends chills down your spine. The writing for Arthur’s character is just as exceptional as the acting. As a man attempting to take up stand-up comedy, he goes to a comedy club and begins taking notes on fellow acts. However, Arthur isn’t sure what to find funny. He laughs, but not at the punchline, just the setup. He looks around confused at the audience as to why they are laughing and then begins to laugh seconds after the joke has been said. This little tidbit speaks volumes for his character, and once again shows a similarity with Travis and their culture lag with society.

While this film isn’t nearly as violent as I was expecting, it can still be very disturbing at times. As Arthur slowly becomes the Joker, his violent tendencies increase. He doesn’t seem to see the harm in what he is doing. He becomes a martyr for the city and embraces his role as a beacon of hope for the outcasts of Gotham. But despite all of the heinous acts Arthur commits throughout the film, I can’t help but root for him. Much like a Walter White or a Tony Soprano, you see the justification in their actions. As the plot progresses, Arthur is pushed more and more to his breaking point. He is beaten both physically and mentally by society. Putting yourself in his shoes, you can understand why he becomes the Joker. We automatically assume that he chose this life because he wants to be a villain. The reality is, it was his only choice.

“Joker” is able to do what very few comic book movies can; be more than entertaining. Hell, I find it hard calling it a comic book movie. It’s more than that. I’m not fond of throwing out the word “classic,” to modern films. I feel comfortable breaking my stigma for “Joker.” In what feels like an homage to many classic films, including “Taxi Driver,” Todd Philipps shows that his days of unnecessary “Hangover” sequels are behind him. The real tragedy of this film is its perception to the public. Many see it as a controversial piece inspired to invoke violence. This film is not meant to glorify its main character or his acts of violence. It isn’t Phillips’ or Phoenix’s goal to make Arthur out to be a symbol of hate. Remember, the Joker is a villain, not a hero. But at times, the villain is misunderstood and mislabeled. We love to hate the villain. But we never seem to realize who the worst villain of all is; people. Everyday violence occurs. Violence has occurred well before the film’s release and guess what, it will continue to happen every day. Correlation does not equal causation. So please, realize that “Joker” is not attempting to incite a wave of violence. Realize instead that this a once-in-a-generation film that stands out in the crowded era of cash grab superhero films.