We all know the infamous character of the Joker — or, at least we thought we did. If your mindset is default to thinking this will be yet another villain redemption arch story– you’ve got it all wrong.
**Warning- Spoilers Ahead**
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this controversial film as Arthur Fleck, a tragic outcast mocked and beaten down continuously by society. However, before he descents into complete and utter madness as the harrowing super-villain we all know, Fleck lives life chasing an unrealistic dream of being a stand-up-comedian, his sole purpose being to “bring laughter and joy to the world.” Although on his quest to becoming a comedian, he has a day job as a clown in which he is subjected to merciless torment, causing him to internally spiral out of control. Much of society’s neglect of Arthur is due a mental illness causing him to burst into random spurts of incurable cackling laughter at inopportune times, causing him to be the inevitable punch-line of society.
Arthur’s major breaking point however occurs within a series of spontaneous and gritty murders that are due to being provoked and mistreated his whole life. However, the acts of disturbingly built-up violence are not what makes this film so frightening, it is what comes after the violence. After Arthur finally feels ‘seen’ in the media and in society, it gives him a misguided ego-boost, one that he has been desperately craving his whole life. Instead of these murders being seen as obvious brutal attacks, it seems as though he is being rewarded with fame for doing ‘God’s work’ by murdering those who hold privilege above the lower class. Arthur is seen as heroic and a symbol of hope within a group of misfits. These horrific acts become an inspiration for others to create violence and ‘purge out’ all of their built-up rage. The acclaimed fame he receives causes him to act upon all his deepest and darkest thoughts — some seen in a notebook that he keeps and references to throughout the film.
His built-up anger at society is displayed for all to see when he is asked to appear on “The Murray Show;” a talk show he is part of due to a clip that circulated revealing his awkward and failed attempt at stand-up. A conversation between Murray and Arthur occurs in front of a live audience and Arthur reveals that he is the assailant and perpetrator of all the crimes occurring in Gotham, seemingly pleased with himself and the movement he has sparked, he blurts out “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you f****n’ deserve!” and shoots the beloved talk show host. This is the final act of violence that occurs by Arthur himself, he then marvels in seeing his fellow outcasts follow his lead and commit heinous crimes inspired by him.
What makes Phoenix’s Joker so mesmerizing is watching his disturbing transformation from hopeful and even a little self-deluded — to callus and violent. This film is raw, disturbing and, most of all, a wake up call. This is a film that I would recommend to anyone, being that it is prevalent to society today. Lots of questions are cemented within this film, some that I’m sure most people will not be able to answer. However, it is important to watch this film with an open-mind and be ready for what is to come.