Joker Review: A Masterfully Constructed Knock-Knock Joke with an Uncomfortable Answer

Joker is the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a comedian struggling to find his way in Gotham City—a town that festers with wealth disparity. Fleck also suffers from a rare disorder that causes him to uncontrollably laugh nervously and this condition makes his social interactions awkward at best and unsettling as worst. Throughout his daily life, Fleck feels unappreciated and unnoticed as he balances taking care of his ailing mother and working odd jobs as a clown for hire. When one day he is pushed too far, Fleck discovers a darker side of himself.

What works in Joker is incredible cinematography by Lawrence Sher (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and the haunting creation of a monster. The positive buzz about Phoenix’s performance is thoroughly justified as the actor portrays a broken man who fractures further under the weight of a system that has failed him. The transformation is equal parts riveting and horrific. Phoenix and writer/director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) are amazingly able to take an iconic character (portrayed in film four times already) and provide not just new a spin, but an incredible amount of depth in a way that is undeniably novel but also aligns seamlessly with the universally established characteristics and traits of The Joker. This embodiment is spellbinding.

RELATED: Joker Expected To Hit $155M Worldwide In Opening Weekend

Joker also benefits from some fantastic aesthetic choices. Sher frames and films Gotham artfully as the world’s most stunningly gorgeous dump. The set dressing oozes filth and yet there is an unnatural aura of beauty through the use of light and color employed. Phillips compounds the experience by pairing the visuals with exceptional music, particularly the score from composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (Arrival) who has already received recognition for her work on Joker by winning the Premio Soundtrack Stars award at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.

While Joker is stunning and mesmerizing, there are likely several people who may feel uncomfortable with the underlying themes and messages. The issues Joker raises about mental health, societal expectations, and the inherent class system are indisputably intriguing. The proposed response to these blights however, could very easily be construed as problematic through the glorification of wanton behavior. If Joker were Act I of a longer story, its questionable ending might feel justified but instead there’s a certain uneasiness that lingers as the credits roll as one ponders the meaning behind the art. But maybe that’s the point.

Joker is a film that will be discussed, analyzed, and discussed for hours among those who experience it. Debates about its effect and themes will spread wildly across the intangible spectrum of subjectivity to objectivity—since Joker achieved its mission in constructing a subversive comic book, there are many who may appreciate it cinematically but may not necessary enjoy it.

Recommended if you enjoyed: Taxi Driver, The Last King of Comedy

FINAL GRADE: A-

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Fox Troilo

Fox serves as an entertainment journalist in the Washington, D.C. When not covering cinematic news for LRM, he critiques films as a member of the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Fox also has a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Strategy from Indiana University Bloomington.

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