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'Joker' (2019)

Joker is a compelling, character-driven, psychological tale that has a message behind the madness.

Joker (2019)

5 / 5
4.5 / 5

The message behind the madness

The upcoming theatrical release of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon later this month and Joaquin Phoenix’s return as the Joker in Todd Philips’s Joker: Folie à Deux next year marks the perfect time to revisit the movie that brought its lead actor critical acclaim.

More than just another superhero/supervillain origin story with an emphasis on action and CGI spectacle at the expense of substantive character development, Joker is a compelling, character-driven, psychological tale. It demonstrates how social justice and thematic ingenuity can work together to breathe new life into seemingly overused tropes.

Representation and inclusion play a central role in the narrative’s mosaic. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) engages with multiple African Americans throughout the film, a detail that holds greater significance than some viewers might initially perceive. It raises the question: Could individuals such as the mother and son on the bus, Arthur’s therapist(s), the orderly at Arkham Asylum, and Arthur’s neighbor, Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), serve both as supporting characters and subliminal, theatrical cues hinting at Arthur’s confinement to a sanitarium all along? Arthur’s final conversation with a therapist at the end of the film certainly lends some credence to this notion.

Disability and disenfranchisement are also prominent themes. Arthur’s battle to contain episodes of uncontrollable laughter, an authentic medical condition, draws attention to the challenges faced by those dealing with conditions daily, be they mental, emotional, or physical. Take, for example, the character of Gary (Leigh Gill). Much like Arthur, Gary encounters the arrogance of others, and it is this shared struggle that ultimately saves his life. Similar to the racial component, Gary’s presence may serve as a conduit through which the film conveys its social justice and thematic objectives.

Whether intentional or not, the creative collaboration between Phillips and Phoenix demonstrates how masterful storytellers can craft contemplative, meaningful works of art that are open to multiple interpretations.

Joker is available for streaming on MAX and PRIME VIDEO. Napoleon opens nationwide November 22, 2023.