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An Honest Review Of 'Joker'

Trigger warnings for this film include mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, and graphic violence.
PHOTO: Joker/Warner Bros. Pictures

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Joker takes place in an alternate timeline of Gotham set during the early '80s. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a clown-for-hire to support his elderly mom Penny (Frances Conroy). His mom used to work for Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and his family's estate—yes, that Wayne aka Batdad. She is hoping to ask for financial aid from her former employer since they're currently struggling to make ends meet. During the evenings, Arthur tries to pursue a career in standup comedy by researching other acts and working on his own material.

He dreams of being invited to the popular late-night show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), so he can finally perform his piece on public television.

Unfortunately, reality comes crashing down and Arthur is forced to face numerous demotivating setbacks in his daily life. Though well-meaning, Arthur can come off as socially awkward, which doesn't come across well to the adults around, making him a constant subject of ridicule. Eventually, all these inconveniences and misfortunes start piling up and he is one bad day away from lashing out. During these trying times, he meets Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), a neighbor from down the hall. She is the only other person who has been nice to Arthur apart from his mom, helping bring a sense of normalcy to his life. With his self-worth dented more and more each day by the unforgiving Gotham life, how long can Arthur keep his sanity in check for the sake of his loved ones before truly snapping?

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The Short, Honest Plot

White guy violently takes out his frustrations on #society yet again.

The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck

The actor is most known for his role as Commodus in Gladiator. He also played the main protagonist in Her, alongside Scarlett Johansson's disembodied voice.

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Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond

Our girl has starred in both DC and Marvel films, with a badass role as Domino in Deadpool 2. You may also recognize her from the award-winning series Atlanta.

Did You Know?

1. Joaquin Phoenix lost a whopping 52 pounds in just a few months for his role. The actor was under the supervision of a medical professional during the process, so please don't even dream of attempting this on your own!

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2. Shailene Woodley was one of the actresses considered to play Sophie Dumond before Zazie Beetz landed the role.

3. Joaquin Phoenix made several entries in his character's journal, sharing a particular line that he wrote himself, "I was writing in Arthur's journal when Todd sent me a note about the set of steps in the story. That inspired me to write 'step after step after step,' over and over and line by line across the pages, and then it became something we'd text to each other." 

4. The iconic Joker look sported in the film was made up of pieces worn by Arthur Fleck in earlier scenes. This villain sports a cost-effective ensemble!

5. In light of the devastating 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting during The Dark Knight screening and recent mass shootings, major theaters were heavily guarded by the US law enforcement such as the NYPD and LAPD. Officers, both uniformed and undercover, were present to ensure the safety of viewers during Joker's opening weekend.

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What My Friend Thinks:

"Joker is a modern masterpiece packed with amazing visuals, incredible storytelling, and phenomenal performances. This movie didn't shy away from depicting the titular character and how he ought to be: raw, unsettling, and yet still relatable to an extent. Joker did a great job of tackling mental health stigma, gun violence, and socio-political issues that persist until today. It's timely and harrowingly realistic—and by the end of it, you'll find yourself wanting to be a little kinder in this dark and harsh world." Nadine Flores 

What I Think:

Joker allows us to view Gotham through the eyes of madness. Arthur Fleck is our problematic protagonist whom we have no choice but to follow. The despair and isolation he suffered on a daily basis were so palpable that it was almost suffocating. As the story progressed, it became more and more uncomfortable to follow his journey to its inevitable conclusion.

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There is a lot to unpack about Joker even in the most meta sense. Controversy has surrounded this film long before its release, from the director vehemently defending his work to people threatening to boycott the film altogether. These methods on either side of the spectrum are both counterproductive as being too protective against criticism has given it negative press, while cancel culture just stoked the flames of interest. That aside, the concern is valid especially in the US, where there have been countless mass shootings including the 2012 Aurora, Colorado tragedy, taking place during The Dark Knight screening. Trigger warnings for this film include mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, and graphic violence.

A man going crazy under societal pressure or violating the boundaries of common human decency is hardly a groundbreaking concept. There have been many films before Joker such as obvious inspirations Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, whose unhinged characters were portrayed by Robert De Niro, who plays a more reasonable guy in this film.

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Joaquin Phoenix gave such a powerful performance that I can already see the glint of that golden Oscar statue on the horizon. The way he wildly swung from the mild-mannered Arthur to the maniacal Joker has to be seen. As Arthur, he was able to show his repressed anger in such a visceral manner, gradually building up throughout the film. Whenever something bad happened, he would put on a strained smile or cackle out loud, which was all kinds of creepy. With every unfortunate incident that Arthur encountered, we waited with bated breath anticipating the moment he will reach the boiling point and finally lose his shit. When the clown finally appears? It gets surreal! The Joker persona is a charismatic and malevolent miscreant that we can't help watch with morbid curiosity. Although this portrayal hasn't surpassed Heath Ledger's version, Joaquin has his own brand of crazy that works.  

The most disturbing aspect of my own viewing experience was how desensitized I turned out to be in the face of gratuitous violence.  

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I laughed during the most inappropriate moments in the film but unlike Arthur, I had no medical condition to excuse my actions. This was mainly due to the absurdity of the context and Joker's dissonant cheerfulness while inflicting pain. I felt like an active participant in the chaos that ensued, almost cheering him on to hunt down people who "deserved it." As the violence escalated to a massive scale, I suddenly felt guilty for laughing because it hit too close to home. It felt too real. I was so accustomed to watching violence with alarming regularity that I felt no different from the side characters in the film.

I can't believe that I needed a killer clown on the loose to make me reexamine my humanity. The downside is that some viewers may fail to see Joker as he truly is: clowning around and acting like a damn fool without holding any accountability for himself.

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Joker is a tragic tale of being the byproduct of an uncaring environment. The story feels so heavy that the weight is soul-crushing. The nihilistic narrative and bleak conclusion wlll leave you sleepless and restless. It's more than a character study of the Clown Prince of Crime, it's also an observation of our darkest depths and what we're capable of when we are pushed to our limit. It's highly unsettling to learn how relatable Arthur was as a character. We have all been frustrated at being pointedly ignored and our mental condition immediately dismissed. Feeling powerless to get what we want and being forced to settle in the meantime, while abhorrent individuals take advantage and win at life. While the setting was decades before, the archaic views about mental illness and general indifference still ring true today.

Did we need another homicidal clown story? Hardly. But I do hope this increases interest in grittier movies starring other DC heroes. Joker shares the same vibe as The Dark Knight franchise, like a spiritual prequel/spinoff of sorts. It's an effective way to differentiate from the other superhero franchise.

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The violence is shocking and tasteless but isn't it supposed to be?

Disguising the brutality into something more palatable defeats the purpose of showing it at all. Viewing it is supposed to be an unpleasant experience. We're supposed to be awakened from our stupor and recognize that this is still happening right now.

Get ready to drag your trusted support group to discuss Joker while taking a long swig of liquor to wash away the aftertaste of overwhelming guilt as you realize that you're no better than any of Gotham's apathetic citizens. No joke! The more optimistic takeaway is that our negative reaction should motivate us to do better as people and actually care.

I'd Recommend It To:

  • Viewers who just want to watch the world burn! *cue popcorn gif and flame emojis*
  • CGs who need to be reminded of the red flags exhibited by problematic men. (Because you can't fix them, sis!)
  • The type of people who just love listening to murder mystery podcasts and watching true crime documentaries. (Don't deny it! You know who you are!)
  • Viewers who are overtly thirsting for, er, morbidly fascinating clowns.
  • Fans who are curious about one of the Clown Prince of Crime's possible origin stories.
  • People who revel in schadenfreude and want to leave the cinema feeling better about their own lives.
  • Moviegoers who thought that the It sequel was way too cheerful.
  • Anyone who digs that particular early '80s retro aesthetic.
  • DC fans who want the same dark and gritty treatment in comic books to be shown on the big screen. (Better than just being a clone of another popular superhero movie franchise, right?)
  • Everyone else who needs to be reminded that this is eerily similar to the world we live in and that we should do something about it.
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