'Joker' Review—Why Joaquin Phoenix Deserves the Praise

Perhaps the most controversial movie of the year, Joker is a film that will have you gripping the bottom of your theater chair. It’s not scary, but rather grotesque in depicting the deplorability of a society that turns its back on the mentally ill. Arthur Fink, a misanthrope who is constantly kicked while he is down, spins into a deep and vengeful frenzy.

Before entering the theater, our bags were checked. News outlets had been speculating that Joker’s content may fuel a certain type of person to feel justified in committing some heinous crime. These assumptions are a direct result of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which took place at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, another Batman film.

Maybe it was the threat of impending violence that intensified this viewing experience. Or maybe it was my need to find an escape route if something terrible were to happen. However, from the moment I took my seat, something felt heavy in the theater.

Watching the film felt like when you get your blood pressure taken at the doctor. The machine grips your arm so tightly that you start to wonder if and when it will stop. Whenever something bad happened to the titular character, it was clear that it would only get worse. Finally, when you’re wondering just how chaotic things can get, it’s over. 

I don’t know if this film would have been as fascinating if Joaquin Phoenix was not cast as Arthur Fink. His performance is captivating in every sense of the word. I couldn’t look away if I tried. His approach to the character was human to the core, so much so that the audience is put in a Catch-22 of feeling pitiful for the murderer and not the victim. 

That’s this movie’s greatest success—making us feel sorry for the bad guy. It’s quite impossible to get through this movie without thinking to yourself, “poor guy,” although that man is the same person who feels justified to murder others just because he thinks the world is laughing at him.

Personally, this movie was a never-ending game of catch up. Something would happen that would make me feel sorry for Fink, and then I would have to remind myself that he is a vengeful psychopath, and so on. Honestly, it becomes quite exhausting. If you’re not in for the ride, I can see where this movie becomes tiring. 

On the other hand, if you fully commit to the watching experience, Phoenix's performance will conjure you into a trance. Give yourself into him entirely, and you’ll find yourself blinking in confusion when the rest of the theater leaves their seats because the film is over, but you’re still too stunned to move. 

Joker is definitely worth seeing, but it does require some mental preparation before entering the theater. Joaquin Phoenix's unhinged performance will cling onto you long after watching.


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