Gotham is suffering, thanks to poverty. It keeps citizens on streets who protest for a better lifestyle. Placards and chantings are everywhere. And then there is a clown, hoping to be seen in all this chaos. Joker is a dark take of the comic villain that has thrived across hearts of million fans. Its the origin story of how Arthur Fleck aka Joker becomes the most sinister person of Gotham City. No actor in recent times has performed with so much intensity like Joaquin Phoenix. He looks really psychotic.
Arthur lives with his mother, Penny Fleck and dreams to be a stand-up comedian. He is anything but funny; he laughs at the wrong places. He struggles to make a living. He performs as a clown holding banners outside restaurants at shanty localities. Off duty, Arthur visits comic clubs and learns the art of joke by observing others. But he fails badly. He is consistently mocked, tormented and bullied.
Arthur is under severe medication. “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Arthur to his psychiatrist. And he is obsessed with Murray Franklin, a talk show host (portrayed by a charismatic, Robert De Niro). He also watches a man on TV who is running for mayor. There is a secret regarding ‘this man’ and Penny, which drives Arthur crazy. He is later fired from his job for owning a gun. Finally, Arthur erupts and goes on a crime spree. It is dark, brutal and way too violent. Social issues like gun violence, poverty, bullying, alcoholism, abusive childhood and mental illness are explored in the movie with razor cut sharpness.
Towards the climax, we see Arthur making it on the Murray Show. He’s proud; he has been waiting for this moment his whole life. The audience laugh at his bizarre entrance and when he delivers a kiss to another guest of the show. As Murray asks him questions, Arthur starts lamenting about problems in ‘system’: about abuse of power. “I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it’s a comedy,” he tells. It reminded me of the iconic take by Peter Finch in the 1976 film – Network by Sidney Lumet.
Arthur initiates riots and Gotham is brought to its knees. Todd Philips’ direction is a masterstroke as he snaps a shot of Joker rising from wreckage following an accident. Music by Hildur Guonadottir is in sync thanks to an intensely dark orchestra. Joker rises over the bonnet. Cut to – a young boy stepping out of a theatre with his parents who are followed by an armed man in the alleyway. He fires, killing the parents and leaving the stunned boy alone (You know who it is). Cut to – Joker rising over the carnage. The sequence is magic to witness the birth of ‘two arch-nemesis’. Joker strikes every aspect of filmmaking with brilliance. It’s a masterpiece that deserves to be watched on the large screens.