Will The Joker Get the Last Laugh?
By: Jordan Oliver
In a field of movies directed by legends like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, it seemed highly unlikely that the director of successful comedies such as The Hangover, Old School, and Due Date had the directing chops to make a drama, let alone an award winning film; however, Todd Phillips really put together a great film. Besides having a director known for some of the best comedies since the 2000’s, the film had to jump over some hurdles. Firstly being a film adapted from superhero comics, which has only recently been taken more seriously. Secondly, how to escape the shadow of the late, great Heath Ledger, who won an Oscar for his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Joker, was much more than a comic book movie. Todd Phillips was quoted during The Hollywood Reporter’s 2019 director’s roundtable saying the film, “…was an anti-comic book movie, so to speak. And in fairness to Warners, it’s a bold swing for a studio to take.” It was an origin story of becoming this violent, sociopathic villain that just so happens to exist in the DC Universe. The film highlighted the forgotten ones. The people beat down by circumstance and no matter how hard they try, it just seems like the whole world is against them. The effects of child abuse and unchecked mental illness are big themes throughout the film that, though set in the early 80s, is a reflection of today’s society. Beautifully shot and a story deeper than just a normal superhero flick, Todd Phillips easily hopped over the first hurdle. Now how was he going to shine under the shadow of Heath Ledger’s masterful performance as the Joker?
Phillips selected respected, award winning actor, Joaquin Phoenix, as lead character, Arthur Fleck, who slowly evolves into the Gotham City villain we all know and love, to conquer this hurdle. Joaquin Phoenix is known for his uncanny ability to become a character, as seen in Walk the Line, and he put in a performance that may finally earn him an Academy Award. From losing over 50lbs in a few months, to studying the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, which stars Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, a freak show attraction who has been disfigured with a permanent smile since birth, Joaquin Phoenix created his version of the infamous character without drawing on past interpretations of the Joker for reference. In the end, Joker becomes a movie so hard to watch, even though it is beautiful to look at, due to the amount of tragedy and pain Arthur Fleck endures as he tries to exist in society. A roller coaster of a journey, which makes you question your own morals as you can’t help but cheer on the mad man, even as he takes a violent turn for the worse. It deserves all the accolades and is a lot of critic’s choice as this year’s dark horse to win it all. According to Forbes, “The film has been nominated for 11 different Oscar nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards, more than any other film. It’s truly a dark horse this year—superhero (or super-villain, as the case may be) movies aren’t usually such Oscar darlings.” If it were to win the Oscar, the landscape for future movies in the superhero genre will shift, inspiring filmmakers to step away from action and comedy, to instead explore the psychology and deeper themes of these heroes and villains found in the comic book world.