REVIEW: “Joker” says nothing extremely well

Norah Wulkopf

In case you haven’t heard the news, “Joker” is a highly controversial movie. From media outlets claiming it will inspire shootings, to its director, Todd Phillips, saying “woke culture” drove him away from comedy, there has been no shortage of clamor surrounding “Joker”. Even Joaquin Phoenix has come under fire for saying his extreme weight loss for the role made him feel in control. 

With all this uproar, “Joker” has to be a transcendent work of art, pushing boundaries no one dare cross before, or a horribly misguided mess of a movie that never should’ve been made. “Joker” is neither. 

On premise alone, it’s clear that “Joker” is heavily influenced by Martin Scorsese. “Joker” follows Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a mentally ill, aspiring standup comedian, on his downward spiral into a world of madness and crime. The two comparisons that immediately jump out are “The King of Comedy”, in which a struggling comic obsesses over a late night talk show host and stalks him, and “Taxi Driver,” in which an unstable taxi driver becomes more and more disgusted by the state of the world.

On top of that, there’s no sense of subtlety in “Joker”. It is as blatant as it is vague in its social commentary. It can all be boiled down to two words: system bad. This isn’t a very bold stance, as I can’t think of anyone who’s happy with the current state of the world. “Joker” didn’t say it first and it didn’t say it best. Yet, I can’t help but enjoy it.

Every second of “Joker” is deeply uncomfortable. It’s disgustingly beautiful; there isn’t a single shot you couldn’t describe as filthy. Arthur is a disturbed and tragic person living in a grimy and despicable world. A world where one outburst of violence, one vicious retaliation can overturn the social balance, revealing the worst of everyone involved. “Joker” sets out to make you unsettled, and it succeeds tenfold.

Much of this success can be credited to Phoenix’s performance. Phoenix’s starved and bruised frame is haunting; his ribcage is permanently burnt into my brain. Even his face looks different. Never one to shy away from a troubled character, Phoenix elevates the material he’s been given.

While I certainly wouldn’t call “Joker” a masterpiece, Phoenix’s performance is.

The rest of the cast is strong as well. Frances Conroy portrays a creepy naivete in Penny Fleck, Arthur’s mother. As talk show host Murray Franklin, Robert De Niro plays a crucial role at the climax, adding to the tension “Joker” had been building since the first scene. Though Zazie Beetz’s character only serves to reveal how twisted Arthur is, she delivers a strong performance.

“Joker” is an extremely well-made movie that says absolutely nothing. I can’t lie, it’s one of my favorites of the year.

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