Joker: Vigilante or Villain?

Joker. Photo credit: Warner Brothers.

Joker (2019), directed by Todd Phillips, brings to life the origin story of one of the most iconic super villains in the DC universe. 

Set in early 1980’s Gotham City, the film explores the life of Arthur Fleck, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, who struggles to find his place in a fractured society. Arthur takes work as a clown in Gotham City, but his true aspirations are to be a stand-up comic. Frustrated and discouraged, Arthur makes a decision that leads him down an irreversible path leading the people of Gotham into anarchy.

Unlike other films featuring the Joker, Joker is the first standalone movie telling the story of how the character came to be a cult criminal. This adaption beautifully centers the life of Arthur Fleck, an unusual task for the big screen. The viewer learns how the constant, daily struggles Fleck endures impact his decision making throughout the film. Joker delves deeper into both Fleck’s psychology and his most encompassing struggle: discovering the maleficence within himself.  

Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here (2017), provides viewers with a breathtaking and compelling performance of the Joker. While Heath Ledger portrayed a darker, more twisted version of Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), Joaquin Phoenix’s adaptation emphasizes the Joker’s humanity. In short, Phoenix did a remarkable job in bringing the character to life. Viewers will be forced to ask themselves if Arthur Fleck is merely an irredeemable villain or possibly worthy of justification.  

Philips, in his directing, produced a stellar film utilizing costumes, props, and lighting to accurately reflect the time period and the mood of the film. It must be noted that his vivid illustrations of the poor living conditions in Gotham City provided an extra depth to the film. However, his most significant accomplishment in this film was his choice of music which made many scenes more intense and engaging. 

One unfortunate aspect near the middle of the film was the over-exaggerated laughing scenes featuring the Joker – these scenes could have been shortened. This flaw, however, did not detract too much from the overall positive experience of seeing this film. 

In review, Joker (2019) is a must watch. I give it an 8.9 out of 10 rating. 

Brianna King is a film critic for the UB Post. 

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Author: Brianna King

Brianna King is a film critic for the UB Post and Secretary of the University of Baltimore Student Government Association.

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