*This movie is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. Please be advised that this review also discusses mental illness and briefly references child abuse.
Topping over $200 million in box offices, the DC movie “Joker” tells the story of Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a mentally troubled comedian who is mistreated by society, which leads him into a downward spiral of bloody crime and to the self-proclaimed name ‘The Joker.’
What has been receiving mixed ratings, “Joker” focuses on the background and mental health aspects of Fleck, which are often not paid attention to in movies of the superhero and villain variety. This approach, though, gives the viewer more of an understanding of how ‘The Joker’ came to be.
Now, The Joker was not born with such villainy, for it was the experiences that his mentally-ill and delusional mother, played by Frances Conroy, brought upon him, and this backstory is revealed through the use of flashbacks. The viewer learns Fleck lived through an abusive childhood, heavily caused by an ex-boyfriend of his mother.
Rather than crying, Fleck laughed uncontrollably. Rather than smiling to show happiness, Fleck danced. Rather than feeling empathy or fear for murdering the civilians he did or for his involvement with the movement of ‘Killing the Rich,’ he laughed and thrived off of the attention– finally being noticed in a society that had treated him so poorly.
Beginning it all was the scene where Fleck was jumped by a group of teenagers while working at his day job dressed as a clown. A fellow coworker played by Glen Fleshler gives Fleck a gun to protect himself on further jobs, but the possession of the gun eventually leads to the termination of his career and toward a life of crime.
Throughout the movie, scenes filled with blood and gore occur, yet Director Todd Phillips makes sure to balance the violence with scenes from Fleck’s childhood as well as from the times where he is not ‘The Joker’ but rather the aspiring comedian he hid behind.
Phillips portrayed the story of The Joker in a rather interesting way, for it was not just a story line with one event following another. Instead, Phillips created a puzzle where the viewer has to put together the different events and timelines to understand the movie by the end.
What may be difficult to catch for some viewers is the delusion that Fleck has regarding a female neighbor in his building, a major piece in the puzzle. While this part of the plot creates a bit of a love interest in the movie, it offers more insight into his character and the mental illness he is experiencing. It speaks to his want to be loved and noticed, not just by society but by someone who can love him back in the way he wishes he had received as a child.
Also, a select audience who follows the DC comics and movies will catch details that an occasional viewer of the DC movies most likely will miss. This is because one must know the major details, if not all of the DC characters, to understand the connection between each villain and hero.
For example, there are parts that foreshadow how The Joker and Batman become enemies. The audience will be shocked by the set-up once the connection between Batman and The Joker is made.
While some critics say the movie had a slow start, it was most likely because the viewers did not have a full understanding of the DC comics or movies. All aspects of the movie are incorporated in a specific way to make the story act as a whole, to fit into the larger DC comics world and to create a full circle ending with Batman. The details can lead to the common misconception that it slows down the movie, but the little details are what make the movie appealing, especially to DC movie fans.
In the end, “Joker” focuses on the heavier issues of what mental illness and abuse can cause, thus telling us the actual reason for why The Joker became who he did, where Batman got his will to protect and more history behind Gotham City.