“Joker”: A Balance of Catastrophe and Elegance

Joaquin Phoenix Portrays the Villain in Fresh Take on the Classic Character

Karma Westbard

Alexander Deng, Contributing Writer

Rating: 4/5 Falcons

Todd Phillips’ Joker is set apart from other films, as it is a uniquely polarizing spin on the tried-and-true superhero movie formula. A character study of the iconic villain, with actor Joaquin Phoenix portraying Arthur Fleck and his transformation from failed comedian to the Joker is a dark and grimy story that is as bold and shocking as it is oddly beautiful. 

The story follows a mentally ill man struggling to find human connection in a lonely world. We watch as Fleck is forced through unhappy circumstances, turning from a creepy man rejected by society into a mentally insane criminal-to-be. The movie is nothing but magnetic, impossible to look away from, with Fleck’s character carrying an aura that is frankly gross and disturbing. His subtle mannerisms, his maniac laugh, and his gaunt and sickly body all indicate to the audience that they are watching a man’s soul die. Fleck is not a traditional villain. Rather, Phoenix’s Joker is morally ambiguous, luring in the audience’s sympathy with a bleak backstory and a painful depiction of societal rejection, yet demolishing that sympathy entirely through unsettling actions and violence that I couldn’t help but look away from. We see Fleck as human at first, yet his slow descent into madness and the anticipation for the moment he will finally snap is what is so alluring about this film. 

Phoenix’s Joker is morally ambiguous, luring in the audience’s sympathy. ”

This delicate balance between total chaos and glimpses of his humanity is aided by an incredible soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir. Guðnadóttir employs clashing melodies, off-tone strings, and a warped, distressed sound in her score,.The setting of a grimy, corrupt, 1970s Gotham further helps this symmetry. Arthur Fleck is not the protagonist, and watching the degradation of his sanity rather than see his insanity from the start is what makes his version of Joker a breath of fresh air. However, this movie is not without flaws. 

Controversial because of its potential to be a catalyst for mass shootings and its glorification of violence, Joker laments the tragedy of the social outcast, glorifying Fleck’s rise to fame using violence to get revenge against the elite. Yet it toes the line between a socially applicable metaphor and a questionable ideology, one that can easily be taken the wrong way. This is not the impression that the movie will leave on most audiences, though. In the end, Joker is an exhilarating psychological thriller that takes an already complex character and adds a deeper, much more frightening layer we haven’t seen before. 

This piece also appears in our October 2019 print edition.