“I’m dancing to the music of the madness inside me.” -George C Wolfe
The actors chosen to don the infamous clown makeup is nearly as convoluted a story as the mysterious past of the clown prince himself. From Cesar Romero to now Joaquin Phoenix the path to the most recent interpretation of the character is one of both celebrations(Ledger) and defeats(Leto). Despite how you may feel about each actor and their unique approach to the slaughter clown, one thing remains a constant throughout; this is a character begging to be examined and dissected layer by complicated layer. With each new layer unearthed a new dimension is found only adding to the scary realism of a sociopath untethered and determined.
In 2019 we now have Phoenix bringing his usual fearless methods to a character too dark, too unsettling to imagine in the real world, and yet that is exactly what Phoenix and director Todd Phillips have done with their Taxi Driver in clown attire, aptly named Joker.
When the film ended and the credits started scrolling I took a moment to myself trying to grasp everything I just saw. This film left me in awe, in disgust, and in great appreciation of those still willing to tell the scary stories of our world. To tell the stories that make us nervous and looking for the exit is a strength to stand against the weakling masses demanding safe spaces and apologies for something as innocuous as the wind blowing. The cancel culture, the age of zero due process is upon us so the desire to still get these kinds of stories out there is a welcome kind of bravery that I will forever applaud. A more familiar concept of the Joker would not only have been made but in a much easier capacity, Phillips decided the path less traveled was the far more interesting journey and with the willingness of Warner Bros. behind him he along with his cast and crew brought to the world one truly hard to swallow pill of modern self reflection. And what a gift we have been given, even as it exposes the ugliest sides of our wayward, soulless, pitiless interactions with one another.
Our world can truly shine with unyielding beauty but it can also possess the ability to beat and maim without mercy and in many ways this is what Joker is about. Yes the loner with ill intent is one to be fearful of but to deny his/her origin being one of isolation and brutality emanating from the likes of us, the “village” raising the youth, is to live in complete ignorance of one’s influence on this world and those living in it. Joker (and those like him) and his abhorrent actions are every bit on his shoulders but not the catalyst that led him to his decisions of ultimate, unfathomable evil; that sin lies on the shoulder of society itself, us to be specific. We are not born broken.
For years no one thought Jack Nicholson’s Joker performance could be topped or even equaled for that matter. Then along came Heath Ledger nineteen years later destined to change things in the world of comic book movies forever. Nicholson delivered a kind of frivolity with his moments of madness embedded within the character. Ledger took this particular monster in a direction all his own. He embodied chaos, he reveled in the madness, he forced murder and mayhem with a kind of horrific glee. He made the character, already legendary, something truly awe inspiring. And now it’s Joaquin Phoenix’s turn. So, how did he do? Is the hype justified?
I think the most important thing to take away from these three performances is that each is masterful in their own right. I don’t think it’s fair to argue which is better or worse. I think it best to simply say, Nicholson and Ledger… genius. Is Phoenix on the same level? Absolutely. And for reasons all of his own doing.
This is by far the most in depth look into the character, discovering the who, what, where, and whys of a clown makeup wearing sociopath. Who or what molded him into an isolated man who only knows pain, who sees the filth of this world and is inspired by it rather than repulsed by it? Phoenix delves into the complicated subject of mental illness creating a gradual slide into madness. It’s as if his sanity is blacking out, you can see the darkness collapsing in on itself. With each new moment in this tension filled story he loses every reason to stay on the path of normal societal behavior. He sees a world of apathy and decides to give the bubbling madness that one little push it needs to teeter into full blown chaos. He once and for all embraces the monster that has dwelled within him for years and begins his journey of laughter and hysteria.
Phoenix embodies this character creating something truly unnerving and never without a weight to his actions, a kind of consequence he gladly gives into no matter the risk. He squirms and contorts himself to grotesque lengths leaving an unease as the movie fades to black for the final time. You praise his performance but are left with something uncomfortable sitting in the pit of your stomach. You aren’t sure what it is but you know it’s because of him. He is every bit Oscar worthy as any individual before him ever considered for the honor. He is a car crash of wonderment and horror demanding to be seen.
What can I say about this movie that didn’t move me in some way? The performance of Phoenix is perilous perfection, the supporting cast is substantial, giving validity to the most absurd moments of the film. The cinematography is Scorsese level and emits as much emotion in a single shot with no dialogue as Phoenix when he becomes wholly unhinged. The score is haunting, mirroring the Joker’s heinous actions but never condoning them. Phillips takes the best of The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, two Scorsese classics, combines them with a modern flair for unfiltered violence and demented exploration and creates the ultimate journey into unwavering horror. Realistic, honest horror for that matter. All the more terrifying as a result. Joker is one of the most disturbing non-horror films I’ve seen in a very long time. It is a revelation not for the faint of heart.
Rated R For: strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images
Runtime: 121 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
Directed By: Todd Phillips
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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