The revival of DC’s killer clown has been much anticipated ever since Joaquin Phoenix revealed his painted face in previews back in April. Between the glowing reviews following its premiere at the 76th Venice Film Festival and the various threats from the Incel community surrounding the film, the tension surrounding Joker feels inescapable.
Director Todd Phillips’s choice to divert from the coveted comic books in favor of narrating Arthur Fleck’s dark descent into crime only heightened the audience’s expectations. The question is, did Joker reach these colossal promises, or fall short in the fashion of recent DC films?
In my experience, Phoenix single-handedly ground these expectations into dust underneath his theatrical clown shoes.
From the very beginning, Phoenix enchants and unsettles audiences with his Joker-Esque laugh, which we later learn is a crippling side effect of his trauma-induced mental illness. The way Arthur walks the line between good and evil had me hooked from the start. The realistic portrayal of psychiatric treatment in the early 80s draws sympathy from the audience, while Fleck’s heinous triple murder and the chaos it incites leaves us equally horrified.
Arthur’s relationship with his next-door neighbor, Sophie, was one of the most confusing elements of the whole film. Throughout the first half of the movie, I was left endlessly wondering why she would spring for an insane man who lives with his mother. That is until it was revealed that Arthur romanticized their brief interaction in the elevator to such an extent that he imagined their whole relationship. After coming to this realization, and having his comedy ridiculed by his idol Murray Franklin, he quickly spirals into the persona of Joker.
Phoenix had me on edge until he took his final blood-soaked steps down the hallway of the psychiatric ward hallway. Although Heath Ledger will always hold the top spot for me, I would be lying if I didn’t say Joaquin Phoenix made most fictional villains look like jokes with his historic performance.