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The Joker

Gotham City is fracturing; people are overly hypervigilant and suspicious of and violent toward one another. By day, Authur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely clown who has mental illnesses and struggles to get by; at night, he keeps a journal, trying to make it as a stand-up comic, and takes care of his mother. Near the beginning of the film, we see Arthur being beat up by a group of teenage boys. Over time, one setback occurs after the other, and the film takes us through the evolution of the person who will become the Joker. I was blown away by the film. There are several characters, but this film 100% belongs to Joaquin Phoenix; it is his best-ever performance, and one of the grittiest acting performances. He is terrifying to watch as he slowly decompensates; his quick turns from soft-spoken to psychopath are just incredible to watch – Phoenix embodies every nuance of the Joker. What I liked as well is how he took the comic book supervillain and made him human – a guy who has mental health problems, is picked on constantly, is overpowered by a system that doesn’t care about him or his mother; at each stage, you can feel why he is the way he is. The screenplay is excellent in terms of its pacing; the slow evolution, along with excellent choices of music (some of it give the film a creepy, horror-like atmosphere, and then it can become light and almost funny) and creative camera work make it a fascinating journey into madness. There are so many scenes that are so powerful (the scene where he is bathing his mother reveals, in just a few moments, so much of Arthur’s psychology; when he is climbing up the stairs that never seem to end, you can feel the weight of the world on him; and the scenes where he evolves into the joker were so mesmerizing, I could not take my eyes off the screen and got goosebumps watching them). This is definitely a tour-de-force performance by Phoenix, a masterful story of madness, and sharp social commentary. As a psychologist, I probably loved it more than many might. I am not sure that it is for everyone – the film is dark, brooding, and violent, and it is also creepy and terrifying. But for me, it was visually and emotionally mesmerizing; it was a joy to watch the artistry and the beautiful combination of acting, music and camerawork and how they merged together in many, many illuminating moments. Huge thumbs up from me for a creative and inventive take on the superhero/supervillain origins genre. (2019; 4.5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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