I seldom find myself so engrossed in a film that I forget where I am, yet “Joker” accomplished that feat from the moment it began. The movie was highly anticipated, creating feelings of anxiety amongst those who believed the subject matter was difficult, controversial and dangerous.
But this piece of cinematic goodness did anything but glorify one of the most notorious villains in pop culture. Rather, it did quite the opposite.
The movie is essentially an origin story for the Joker, arguably DC Comics’ most iconic villain. It follows the life of Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian living in Gotham City with his mother. The film focuses on events in Fleck’s life that lead him to become the Joker.
I previously mentioned I am rarely ever engrossed in a film in the way I was for this one — I see movies every weekend, and on some occasions, I see multiple, and they often blend together. But something else happened in the two hours I sat in the theater. I was mesmerized by Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. The combination of a flawless score and phenomenal acting evoked a physical reaction. I felt nauseated for a good portion of the film, and this reaction is something I want to focus on.
When I was a high school sophomore at one of my first forensics tournaments, a girl on my team asked me why I wanted to act. I didn’t have much of an answer. She did. She told me she wanted to make people feel something.
Since that moment, I always judged an actor’s talent by their ability to elicit feeling and emotion.
I was skeptical going into this film — as were most people. Heath Ledger’s Joker is undoubtedly one of the most phenomenal roles of the century. Phoenix had a lot to live up to, and I would say he exceeded my expectations and then went beyond.
Phoenix made the cold, psychopathic and ruthless villain seem somewhat human — which just made the character even more frightening. To watch a person — a living, breathing human being — turn into something so dark and depraved made me sick to my stomach. Phoenix tapped into the aspect of the Joker that made him so notorious; the Joker wasn’t “super,” and he didn’t have any particular powers. He was human, he was like the rest of us and he was sick.
Phoenix seemed to have perfected Arthur’s every movement and mannerism to execute an outstanding performance.
The acting wasn’t the only thing that impressed me. I am a firm believer that the score completes the film. Without good music, the film will fail. Hildur Guðnadóttir, an Icelandic composer, created an incredibly haunting score. I’ve listened to the soundtrack since seeing the movie, and there are certain clips that induce a very dizzy feeling inside me. It is beautifully dark and speaks on its own.
Another fascinating aspect of the film is the way the production design changed throughout. For a large majority of the film, Gotham was dark and dreary. Dilapidated buildings leaned against the gray sky in exhaustion. When Arthur dies and the Joker rises, the light changes. The sun comes out. The colors are more vibrant. This is when we witness the Joker’s final descent into depravity — and his ultimate surrender to chaos. But the colors don’t stop there — they become violent. Havoc consumes the streets.
This subtle touch added something special to the film. At the end, I felt like I was watching an entirely different movie. This feature truly mirrored the actual story — of dark, sinister transformation.
There are too many aspects of the film I appreciate. I can’t go into detail on them all, or I’d be writing for weeks. What’s important to me is that this film did not let me down. “Joker” was a painfully creative masterpiece that will keep me thinking for months.
Julie Freijat is a sophomore in mass communications and biology. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.