Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker

Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character in “Joker”.

Gillian Snyder, Co-Editor in Chief

There has been a hot debate around the release of Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character.

Controversy began after the movie was screened at the Venice Film Festival. It won the festival’s highest honor: the Golden Lion for Best Film. So it has got to be good, right? It won the same award as movies like Shape of Water and Brokeback Mountain. But there’s an underlying fear surrounding Joker. Is this movie an unfiltered look into the mind of a madman, or a justification for violent outbursts against society?

The problem many people have with Joker is that it shows Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) backstory in a sympathetic light. When I watched the movie, I did feel sympathy for Fleck, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The first few scenes really show how alone and ostracized he feels. At this point, Fleck is still a nonviolent and generally likable character, despite the secondhand embarrassment and low-key incel vibes. The movie takes a slow and chilling look at the forces that drive Fleck to become Joker. The scene with the Wall Street dude bros is the turning point for Fleck, but his anger towards them, although extreme, is not displaced. 

Phoenix and director Todd Phillips do an amazing job of portraying a realistic man whose mental illness is spurred on by real societal influences. The way Phillips seamlessly moves from actual events to Fleck’s fantasies gives the viewer a close look into Fleck’s unstable mind. The Gotham City in which Joker takes place feels more like New York City, and so the people and events also feel more real. This almost detaches Joker from other DC movies and drops it right into our own American culture, full of corrupt politics, gun violence, and untreated mental illness. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this rendition of the Joker. I can’t imagine anyone but Phoenix playing such a dark and complex character (sorry, Jared Leto, but your Joker sucked). Phoenix also has the infamous laugh down perfectly. The scenes where you can’t tell laughter from sobs have some of the greatest impact. I love myself a good antihero movie that defies the clean cut, good vs. evil of most superhero films, and Joker makes you think about the forces that drove Arthur Fleck to become the villain–or hero to some. I see this movie not as a glorification of violence against society, but a look into what pushes a man to insanity.