Nothing Funny About Joker

Joker IMAX movie posterAt first, I had some hesitation in going to see Joker in the theater. Due to its nature and the media coverage, I was somewhat wary of it encouraging violence to those in the theaters. I ended up waiting until after the first week and going on a weeknight. It was also the planned kickoff to a highly anticipated mini vacation. At this point, I had built up some excitement to see a comic book movie in the Batman realm. To my surprise, when the film began, the theater was full.

Being a Batman fan, I have seen a lot of versions of his villains across movies, comics, and video games. Since The Dark Knight, there have been even more appearances and translations of the Joker. There has also been a darker tint to the character since Heath Ledger’s intense performance. I was ready to watch a movie about the Joker, but that isn’t exactly what this movie is. Joker is a movie about Arthur Fleck, a man with mental health issues that breaks down and becomes someone else.

I was ready to see a film that was about his rise, but I wasn’t prepared for a movie that humanizes him and then dehumanizes him again. The movie shows us the broken person who eventually becomes the Joker that we’ve seen before. Considering what the Joker is eventually deranged into, his path before the makeup and crime could be any variety of horrible. That horribleness is precisely what the 2 hours and 2 minutes of the movie Joker are. I think the subject matter of this movie could have been very different from what it is and still be successful.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t recommend going to see it if you are already feeling down. It is a dark, dramatic film that hinges on the intense performance of Joaquin Phoenix as a mentally disturbed man falling deeper into his psychosis. Don’t expect a lot of action, superhero tights, or fun scenes. I also would not recommend bringing any children to this movie. It will likely not keep their attention, but it may have a disturbing effect on them if it does. I think Phoenix’s performance is masterful. I say, be careful what you wish for when asking a man to accurately portray someone mentally disturbed for two hours of screen time.

Although I think the performance by Joaquin Phoenix is something to behold, I would have rather not seen it. It didn’t make me like or fear the Joker any more than I did beforehand. It also didn’t make me want to watch or read anything Batman. It really is just a display of Phoenix’s dedication and ability. His portrayal, though, is of something that you may not want to see necessarily. Joker is not a supervillain or a supernatural killer, he is a sad, broken, delusional man. His violence and delusions stem from the abuse he endured as a child. His laughter is uncontrollable and either a part of his mental condition or a delusion that it is. I don’t want to see the Joker at all right or see Batman beat him up, because now it’s just kind of sad. The lack of Batman definitely leaves the movie feeling unbalanced.

Dark Knight Returns Batman versus Joker StatueBruce Wayne is in the movie, though! Although we don’t see Batman or any heroes, we do know where this world’s Bruce Wayne fits in. Unfortunately, his characterization doesn’t help the movie and only serves to distance it from Batman lore. Bruce Wayne is a child in the film and interacts with Fleck as he’s falling deeper into his insanity. This would put at least 20 years age difference between Batman and the Joker. This could be a new exciting dynamic, but has never been addressed as a possibility before and breaks the theory that Joker only exists because of Batman. We also learn that in this version, Bruce witnessed his parents’ deaths on the same night Fleck fully became the Joker. This plays into them being opposite sides of the same coin but seems too serendipitous for the story.

In the end, we see Fleck finally emerge almost accidentally as a version of the character we’re familiar with. The entire movie seemed to be out of Fleck’s control. He never appears powerful or ingenious or diabolical. He is a man who is off his medication and stumbling through his psychosis. It’s not a revenge movie, or rise to the top. It’s an origin story in that we see the suffering of a man before he becomes the character we are enthralled by. There’s not much to look forward to in the movie once it starts as it’s just a steady drift further into the dark. The end of the movie is spent building toward Fleck’s planned suicide on live TV. We do learn more about the man before the Joker, but again I don’t know that it helps me understand or like the character anymore.

Although I was aware of the media coverage regarding the movie and it’s potential to incite, I wasn’t completely sold on it. After seeing the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone who already had the inclination, was inspired to act out after watching it. It is a 2-hour close look at someone down and out with mental health issues. He is disregarded by society, and when he acts out and lets his mental illness take over, he gets noticed. Unfortunately, I think the timing of the film reflects poorly on it. The portrayal and focus of the movie are on its scary reality. If the content weren’t so close to the truth, perhaps my reaction wouldn’t be so harsh. I think the film plays off the fear of those realities and people who may or may not have been in similar situations.

The Dark Knight Version of Joker figurineWhen it comes down to it, I wanted to like Joker, and I didn’t want to agree with the fear in the media. After seeing the first 30 minutes, I realized watching the movie on a good day was a mistake. The film showcases an excellent performance by Phoenix and a new take on the origin of the Joker. It is not a movie I would want to watch on a whim and not a movie I would watch again. My overall feeling is that although you may see something special in the movie, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I’m not sure there is anyone that needs or would really benefit from seeing it. It will give insight into the Joker’s sad life before becoming something more, but it doesn’t really make the character more likable or more frightening. It may just have caught me at the wrong time, but I give the Joker a 2.5 out of 5.


  1. That’s a really fair review. I thought this movie really did have some striking moments, but I didn’t like it, and I don’t think that means that I’m intolerant or negative. I just don’t think this character is the Joker, and I think that, as you say about the treatment of mental health issues, it ‘plays off fears of these realities.’ Well said!


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