Why everyone should see the movie ‘Joker’

Todd Phillips, American filmmaker and actor, put an authentic spin on the backstory of Arthur, creating a character that few saw coming.

Jenna Erickson

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April 2, 2020

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Joker is the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time—and counting—surpassing Deadpool.

Ugly, grotesque, depressing, yet quite fascinating, the American psychological thriller film that came out on Oct. 4 directed by Todd Phillips, “Joker,” has left me in awe.

I thought this was going to be another situation where my dad drags me to a superhero movie and I’m completely lost, but this time was definitely different.

I went into the movie completely blind, to the point where I didn’t even watch the trailer before seeing it, which is very unlike me. I assumed the movie would be about Batman and his archnemesis, the Joker, but I was quite wrong, which is probably why I enjoyed this film so much.

The little prior knowledge I had of Batman and the Joker didn’t really matter. The movie brings real-life issues to the table, putting a twist on the background of the Joker that anybody can watch and take in.

If you haven’t seen the movie, “Joker” centers around the iconic archnemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Arthur Fleck, who is played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a mentally-troubled, clown-for-hire by day and aspiring stand-up comedian by night who is disregarded and mistreated by society.

Arthur lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City. Gotham is rife with crime and unemployment, leaving many of the population unemployed and impoverished. Arthur suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, and he depends on social services for medication.

Throughout the film, you watch Arthur embark on a downward mental spiral and bloody crime spree, bringing him face-to-face with his own alter-ego, The Joker.

Todd Phillips, American filmmaker and actor, put a very authentic spin on the backstory of Arthur, creating a character that I don’t believe many saw coming.

He thought it was possible to produce a new story featuring the character. He told The New York Times, “it’s just another interpretation, like people do interpretations of Macbeth.”

Yes, the plot, production and everything about the movie was fantastic, but Phoenix’s ability to take Phillip’s vision of the Joker and bring it to life through the screen is fascinating to me.

To depict such a confusing, insane and dynamic character is not easy to do and I walked out of the theater so impressed by it, but maybe that’s the acting geek in me talking.

Now, for those who haven’t seen the movie, stop reading if you don’t want any spoilers.

Halfway through the movie, Fleck makes a discovery that leads him to believe his absent father is actually the wealthy business magnate Thomas Wayne, who is running for Mayor of Gotham. Arthur then meets a young Bruce Wayne, who Arthur believes at the time is his half-brother.

Eventually, Arthur has a confrontation with Thomas Wayne where Thomas punches him, causing Arthur to cry and laugh uncontrollably at the father figure who has rejected him. This is one example that moves him one step closer to becoming the Joker.

Since Arthur is the hero of his own story, I viewed him sort of as an inspiration and (sorry to borrow a line from “The Dark Knight”) as the “hero Gotham deserves.”

When a city is on the brink of madness with rats, corruption, income inequality and no mental health services, not many would think the “hero” would be a mentally ill, violent man in clown makeup. You would think it would be the typical superhero in a cape but, in this case, it had to be Arthur.

In the last 15 minutes or so, Arthur requests that Murray — a comedian who asked him to come on his television show — introduce him as Joker, a reference to Murray’s previous mockery of him.

“Joker” then goes live on television and tells morbid jokes, admits to murdering the rich Wall Street men on the train and rants about how society abandons the disenfranchised. He then goes on to kill Murray on live TV and is arrested as riots break out across Gotham.

Phillips wrote the script in which he wants you to feel bad for Arthur, as he was the protagonist of the story. I want to mourn with Arthur as he’s getting beat up and made fun of by kids on the street for being a pathetic clown and suffering from an uncontrollable laughing disorder due to childhood trauma.

Even when Arthur starts spiraling due to all of his experiences in the city, which led him to become this villain that we all know he ought to be, I still, frankly, wanted to be on his side.

I felt as if I went on an emotional rollercoaster with Phoenix’s character, feeling empathic, then angry, then disgusted and fascinated, which I know was Phillip’s and Silver’s intended plan.

I watched this man — not villain — deal with real-life struggles like poverty, childhood trauma, mental illness and social outcasting. So, when he eventually develops into the so-called “villain,” I didn’t exactly know how to feel.

I think that’s the pure genius behind Phillip’s and Silver’s writing.

Since the Joker does not have a definitive origin story in the comics, Phillips and Silver were given creative freedom with the character of Arthur Fleck.

“Scott and I just pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane,” Philips said, according to Deadline.

As of this past weekend, when Joker narrowly flew past “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” to once again top the domestic box office, the film has garnered nearly $850 million worldwide. That’s not just an absurd amount of money: it also makes “Joker” the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time — and counting — surpassing “Deadpool.”

From Arthur’s exhale of cigarette smoke to dancing like a savage along the steep steps in Gotham, Phoenix’s bravura performance as the popular comic book villain is nothing short of extraordinary.

I recommend everyone to see it, but if you don’t want to pay the $7, at least download the soundtrack, because that’s nothing short of extraordinary as well.

Erickson can be reached at [email protected]