On October 3, the Warner Bros drama Joker took cinemas worldwide by storm. On the opening weekend, it brought home US$90.5 million in the US alone and US$234 million worldwide. However, this is of little surprise, as Joker was one of the most anticipated movies of the past couple years. After the late Heath Ledger’s thrilling performance as the Joker character in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it was going to be tough for an actor to top.
Joker follows the story of an aspiring comedian, Arthur Fleck, who is a societal outcast. Arthur wears two masks – the one he paints on his face for his day job as a clown and the one of his regular persona, which fails to meet the standards of society in the fabled Gotham (a thinly veiled New York City of the mid-1970s).
The movie was directed by Todd Phillips, who is known for his work oncomedies like The Hangover trilogy, War Dogs and Old School, as well as his writing for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Many may find it strange that such an acclaimed comedy director has created such a dark and twisted film; many say it just shows that Phillips has a very diverse skill set.
Joaquin Phoenix is a method actor, just like Heath Ledger was. Arguably, the Joker can only be played by method actors because the character has so many layers of instability. Phoenix reportedly lost 20 kilograms for the movie to embody Phillips’s vision of the Joker character – a frail and feeble character with a troubled mind.
The Joker is perhaps one of the most prominent fictional characters in pop culture and it was definitely a hard task for Phoenix to fill Ledger’s boots. However, in the end, they have both portrayed two different Jokers characters. Ledger’s Joker was a lot stronger and wittier, and not far off from a terrorist. On the other hand, Phoenix plays a frail and broken man who is looking to get revenge on a society that constantly bullies him for being “different”.
Indeed, the word is at the centre of the movie – all the hardships that Arthur Fleck experiences are due to his obscurities, such as his condition to uncontrollably laugh. This is quite possibly the grittiest Joker yet, simply because of the focus on mental health, as well as a slew of gruesome murders and some ingenious cinematography.