A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society.
While Joker‘s director, Todd Phillips, may be more well known for his comedies today (The Hangover, Old School), this film seems to be a return to Phillips’ darker character sketches from his 1990s films.
Joker takes place in Gotham, but the city (and the society in it) feels more gritty and real than any other time we have seen it—and so does the depiction of the soon-to-be “Joker,” Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).
The film opens with Arthur working as a sign-spinning clown on a busy city street when his sign is stolen by a group of boys who lead him down an alley and beat him down. This may not be a common occurrence for Arthur, but the viewer gets an impression that he is used to being treated poorly. Indeed, the film acts as an examination of that poor treatment by Gotham society upon those who may be viewed as “lesser.”
Arthur is mentally ill, and the film follows his particularly violent descent into madness as his life, through many actions of his own, begins to crumble around him. It is no secret that the Joker is a maniacal super-villain, but the origin story depicted here is one that paints his life in a significantly more realistic, though not sympathetic, light.
The realism that Joker depicts is done quite well, and the film is shot and directed masterfully. However, its dark subject matter and themes of mental illness and depression may hit close to home for many viewers, making this film Not Dove-approved.
The film is certainly not for the faint of heart. It had me on the edge of my seat, but it was entirely out of anxiousness rather than gleeful suspense.
*Advisory: We advise that people struggling with mental health issues refrain from viewing this film due to dangerously disturbing content.