2019 Joker: A Critique of Society


Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

Ryder Wells, Staff Writer

TELLURIDE–“Joker” is psychological thriller filled with details that turn previously introduced ideas on their heads and makes you question what is or isn’t real.

Director Todd Phillips shows off his talent in first non-comedy film of his career.  “Joker” is a far cry from his previous movies such as “The Hangover” trilogy and the 2004 adaptation of “Starsky and Hutch.” 

“Joker” stars Joaquin Phoenix as failed comedian Arthur Fleck.  The film follows his downfall to villainy. However, the movie is much more than that. The film deals with Fleck’s mental illness and his treatment by society. His mental issues are an important part of the story and set up some mystery in the film. Through the course of the film we see that Fleck’s treatment is a reflection of how a lot of the Gotham’s poor population are treated. 

The movie starts off immediately with Fleck struggling. He works as a party clown, and in the opening minutes is doing a job where he’s holding up a clearance sign for a store. He gets jumped and attacked by a group of teenagers. Things don’t get much better after that. In fact, people continue to insult him and treat him poorly.

Fleck has Pseudobulbar affect, or PBA for short. PBA is an uncommon condition that makes someone uncontrollably burst out crying and laughing at often inappropriate times.  For Fleck, it’s laughter. This reflects the character of Joker’s iconic laugh and makes his character more complex.  PBA is often linked to mood and nervous system issues, and Fleck often gets verbally or physically harassed for his laughter. This sets up the foundation of Arthur’s character as a person with a mental illness who is being negatively affected by society- while also making his downfall more believable.

Another important note is that Arthur Fleck serves as unreliable narrator of sorts. A few times in the movie we are given scenes that are not real, rather made up in his head. This makes viewers question a lot of scenes. What is real life? What is just fantasy? This makes the film interesting, and leaves a lasting impression on the audience. 

2019’s “Joker” is a great, layered film. It gives us one of the best, if not the best on screen portrayals of the character. There’s a reason that it’s the highest grossing “R” rated movie of all time. You need to see it to get a full understanding and appreciation.  A lot of care and effort was put into the movie. Joaquin Phoenix even lost 52 pounds to portray Arthur. “Joker” takes its place as one of the great films of the year.