This article contains opinion and spoilers.
“Joker” was released Oct. 4 and was an incredibly impressive and interesting film.
The main character, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), works as a clown briefly in the struggling city of Gotham and visits a social worker for medication and counseling for mental health issues, including a condition that causes him to laugh in an uncontrollable way. This is an actual condition called pathological laughter.
Arthur doesn’t know who his father really is but finds a father-figure in his idol and favorite late-night talk show host/comedian, Murray Franklin.
Later in the film, Arthur’s hero features a short video clip of Arthur’s cringey comedy routine on his show and makes fun of him, which further endangers Arthur’s already-fragile mental health.
After Arthur is fired because of an incident in a children’s hospital with a gun given to him for protection by a coworker, he rides the subway home and is confronted by a group of three Wall Street businessmen who first harass a woman on the train and then begin to harass Arthur when he has an attack of pathological laughter.
Arthur ends up murdering the three men with the handgun and then flees to a subway bathroom to calm himself down. He performs an eerie slow-motion dance that seems to reflect Murray’s opening bow on his TV show.
Arthur lives with his elderly mother who frequently writes to politician Thomas Wayne, who, as Arthur reads in one of his mother’s letters, is his supposed father. He eventually looks into his mother’s mental health history at Arkham State Hospital and finds out that he is adopted, to which he responds murderously, yet again, and is finally pushed to his mental health breaking point, succumbing to the ever-threatening alter-ego of the Joker.
Arthur ends the action of the movie by murdering his idol on live television, getting involved in a car accident that frees him from a police car and smearing his own blood across his face while surrounded by the roaring applause of his anarchist audience, the city’s beaten-down residents, in a glorious rain of praise for his bloody actions and for beginning Gotham’s’ revolution.
He paints on a smile stretching up to the apples of his cheeks to fully transform himself into the iconic, bloody, permanently-smiling villain we all fear (and love).
The final scene involves Arthur sitting in a mental asylum, presumably for the criminally insane, speaking to a psychologist. He chuckles, and she asks him what the joke is to which he replies sinisterly, “You wouldn’t get it.”
The movie ends with Arthur dancing down the white hallways of the asylum leaving bloody footprints behind him, implying that he must have butchered that poor psychologist.
This movie was a cinematic masterpiece, and there is much to unwind in its long list of references to films, such as Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” “The Old Soft Shoe,” “Network” and even is theorized to have been inspired at points by the work of a famous French mime, Marcel Marceau, who performs an act titled “The Mask Maker.”
The acting is truly incredible, and Joaquin Phoenix admits that he went through rigorous character work to get in the correct frame of mine to represent this classic villain. He lost a staggering 50 pounds and even went so far as to study psychological patients who suffered from the same pathological laughter affliction that his character does.
This movie was gorgeous and interesting and pushes the boundaries of dark and uncomfortable while fascinating audiences all the while, on an entirely new level.