Joker is a complete and deeply disturbing reinterpretation of the villain’s origins, as textured and volatile as it is uncomfortable to watch. The narrative flips “crazy and evil” into mental illness, victimization and circumstance that drive Arthur Fleck into the delusional madness and transformation of the Joker.
We’re immersed in the harrowing details of a frail Arthur Fleck suffering, watching through the lens of a sympathetic bystander, and we observe him mentally snapping like bamboo, one soul crushing splinter at a time. Arthur’s break culminates in an empowering freedom to no longer suffer, because there’s nothing left to lose. With that, any sense of moral compass is spun wildly out of control. The decency that has always been expected of him has never been afforded to him, and he’s had enough.
There are moments when we see Arthur’s clarity as he realizes the painful truths of his own existence, tortured by circumstance and delusions, as all reason abandons reality. What option does he have but to embrace the insanity of his own terrifying world and then appoint himself captain of it?
Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-worthy performance is nothing short of mastery. We often catch glimpses of his expression that tell entire sub-plots in a single, eye glistened glance. There is a moment when the female love interest says, “Three Gotham City pricks down, and about another million to go.” The camera focuses on Phoenix and his silent portrayal – with expression alone – announces with crystal clarity that Arthur will gladly kill those million, just for her.
Chilling. Profoundly sad. This is not an entertaining movie, per se, but it is a powerful examination of the causation of a definitive antihero.