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Deeper, Darker and more Disturbing than any other Comic Book Movie
You will likely leave Joker feeling like I did: unsettled and ready to debate the movie for years to come.
Joker demands multiple viewings, one of Joker's strengths is that anyone will be able to argue their side about what was real and what was imagined, and no one will be able to say another's read of it is inaccurate. For a movie about one of fiction's most unreliable narrators, we should expect nothing less.
It offers no easy answers to the unsettling questions it raises about a cruel society in decline. Joaquin Phoenix's fully committed performance and Todd Phillips' masterful albeit loose reinvention of the DC source material make Joker a film that should leave comic book fans and non-fans alike disturbed and moved in all the right ways.
Drawing its spirit and style from classic '70s and '80s films like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, A Clockwork Orange, and Dog Day Afternoon, it presents Gotham City that is unmistakably a stand-in for the hellish New York City of the era. It was a time when rampant crime, corruption, economic crises, and social ills saw it dubbed "Fear City".
Unnervingly played by Joaquin Phoenix, the mentally ill Arthur Fleck is a struggling, overlooked schlepp trapped on the margins of society. Arthur is a man who has never had a good break or happy day in his life. The less said about how and why Arthur embraces the Joker persona and finds his liberation and joyful empowerment the better - this is a film meant to be experienced with an open mind and sans spoilers - but suffice it to say this Joker is the end result of a society far too comfortable with its casual cruelties and lack of empathy. We create the monsters we deserve. Arthur's increasingly unstable mental state is reflected in the film as things grow progressively more surreal, nightmarish, and violent in the homestretch.