Joker: A Gritty Masterpiece

Director Todd Philips provides viewers with a masterpiece film that revels in everything that made the 1970’s style of realism such a benchmark in the history of the medium. Everything in this comic inspired film bleeds truth in the eyes of its mentally disturbed protagonist Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). From its gritty visuals, urban decayed streets of Gotham, and an epic method acting performance by Phoenix, this version of the Joker is by far the definitive origins story of one of comic’s most beloved clown prince of darkness. This work of art not only transcends the medium but bursts beyond the boundaries of the graphic novel format, giving both fans and newcomers alike a stunning glimpse into the mental breakdown of a man bearing the brunt of society’s ills.


The Realism of Its Setting


Rather than settling for a fictionalized studio approach to the world of Gotham, Philips and his team shot the entire film on location in New York to engender a more organic feel to the film. Taking place in the early 80’s, the diegetic elements of the plot are all true to the time in which it takes place in. The street cars, rotting subway trains, style of dress, the VCR’s are all prevalent to make audiences feel this particular part of Gotham’s urban decline and how it reflects Fleck’s unavoidable psychological decline. Fleck literally smokes everywhere he goes, symptomatic of the stressful socioeconomic times in which he lives. Witnessing a film shot in the streets like it was during the decline of the studio system renders the film a vintage feel that could only come from the genuineness of the filmmaker’s insistence on realism. This is a truthful film, even though the seeds of its world and characters are derived from the comic book medium.Method Acting At Its Finest
By far the brilliance of this film is its amazing performance by its protagonist, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix inhabits this character to the fullest, from his scrawny physique to his bombastic sadistic laughter.

His take on this iconic character never fails to deliver in its dual purpose of being both terrifying and empathetic towards his plight. Fleck is a character who has been knocked down emotionally and physically his entire life. That very moment when he assumes the identity of the Joker in a bloodied bathroom stall following his first execution, is gut wrenching in its emotional evocation. One cannot feel helpless in Fleck’s decline, his descent into madness becomes almost predestined.


Fleck’s mental illness pervades every aspect of the film’s plot. The city itself embodies the protagonists own inner turmoil. Gotham imposes on the psyche of Arthur just as much as it’s citizens do physically. Gotham is presented in steady descent, mirroring the breakdown of Arthur Fleck. Even though it’s a period piece, the film holds true to contemporary society. Gotham has never been more prevalent than ever and it’s truly imposing on the character arc of the Joker.


The Joker Can Exist Without Batman


Unlike other incarnations of this comic book franchise, Joker never propagates Batman as its anchor to propel the plot forward. Here, Philips places the Joker on full display and in a sense breaks from tradition. Fleck resembles more Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver rather than the campy nature of his predecessors. Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is no longer the generous wealthy benefactor of Gotham’s aristocracy. Here, Philips presents this character as a pompous money hungry tycoon who contributes to Fleck’s decline just as much as the rest of society does. Such breaks from tradition render Philips’ film an individualistic feel that has not been seen in this franchise with any incarnation of these characters.


The Verdict


In the end, Joker is an unmatched character study On the tangible influences of society and loneliness on the mind of a mentally unstable antihero. Fleck loss of the self resembles the complexity of those great antiheroes that came before. Everything we see in this film ones into question as lines between reality and Arthur’s own twisted fantasy are blurred into confusion. Joker is a sympathetic character in the way Travis Bickle is.
The film does not ask you to empathize with Fleck but merely understand his plight. Society and the institutions themselves are the main antagonist to Joker’s madness. His character arc does not come full circle, but rather, falls downward from being a socially awkward downtrodden struggling comic to a murderous sociopath. this is a film that garners the highest praise for its tasteful look into mental illness and the mythos of this macabre icon. Phoenix delivers a mesmerizing performance, one in which needs to be revisited time again. Being called simply a masterpiece does not give this film enough adulation. This is truly the film of the decade and not for the faint of heart. Philips’ iconic artwork is here, and the mind of Arthur Fleck is its demented canvas.

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About Anthony Frisina 68 Articles
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.

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