Warner Bros. Pictures and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has finally brought us a serious, sobering think piece for a villain no one understood or wanted to understand before.
The comic book world has settled for MARVEL films as the go-to winning streak for adaptations and they have kept their source material promises and humorous charm panel by panel. "Joker" turns down the action for moments that turn into ill-begotten gains through lack of indemnity.
Joker's backstory has always been muddy but assumed as a lost cause as mysterious as his precarious, sometimes deadly, choices. The aliases for Joker are in constant flux as well, maintaining his unpredictable nature and protecting his identity and what is left of it.
Here we bear witness a man named Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a clown for hire-slash-sign spinner and aspiring comedian living with his bedridden and doting mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy), making ends meet in the seedy city of Gotham.
Arthur is at first an unassuming, meek and mild man who wants nothing more than to bring laughter and merriment to his side of the tracks. The pressure to perform takes its toll when work-life meets the unforgiving street life, filled with meddlers and peddlers.
His best defense is his involuntary laughter reserved for discomfort, pain, and of course, anger. That and one other defense in a train ride later that felt too convenient but nonetheless heavy-hitting. The number of drugs to stay sane leaves Arthur numb and unfulfilled, but the only true saving grace is his notebook of jokes.
These little asides for the uninitiated paint a subtle but relevant picture into the mind of a common man spiraling into the madness the world forcibly bestowed him.
The argument could be that charity begins at home, but what if your home is shared by the rich, the corrupt, and the other like oppressors?
Most of the film is grab-and-go with its comic book arcs, dipping into the recognizable while taking its fair share of incredulous liberties. None of this is jarring enough to make devout fans disappointed.
A recurring motif of the stairway gets well-deserved screen time as does the construction and deconstruction of familiar and new characters. Director Todd Phillips uses his lens as a fly on the wall with insatiable eyes both giving you undivided attention and dying for your attention.
Whenever Joaquin has breath to breathe he savors each gasp as if it is his last and each chance he gets to speak is never wasted. What strikes the viewer is how painfully coherent and inconsiderate the clown can be, why should he be the only one to suffer the taste of his own medicine when the ones who force it down his throat never take it themselves?
Of course, much of the film is a double-edged sword, battling between awareness, self-awareness, and unawareness of the obvious and underlying problems of (untreated) mental illness, pedestrian distractions (Live with Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro), and the nonchalant ignorance and manipulation of the two.
'Joker' is more than a theatrical kiss of death to these mirrors and carnival mirrors. The film itself is a call to arms against the greatest enemy anyone can face, the enemy within, yourself.
The real joke is people expecting you to behave as if you don't, but they seldom get the joke.