A tragic backstory for a psychopath is a common story in many tales, but usually a person doesn’t get to watch a character spiral into madness, which is exactly what the movie Joker portrayed.
The setting begins in a beige themed warehouse of rent-able party clowns in 1981.
Arthur Fleck, later known as “The Joker,” is introduced putting on clown make-up before twirling a sign on a Gotham street. Afterward he has his sign stolen and is jumped in a dirty, garbage filled alley for being “different.”
It is portrayed that Fleck has a condition that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, relying only on social services to give him his proper medication. He also has a love for stand-up comedy, wanting to perform for a living.
Fleck is given a gun to protect himself by a friend, but when it falls out of his pocket in a children’s hospital, he is fired.
Still in clown make-up, he gets on the subway, only to be beaten up by three businessmen who work at Wayne Enterprises.
This time however, Fleck decides to fight back, shooting two in self-defense and killing the third. When the triple homicide is reported on the news, the businessmen are called good people and label their murderer an evil person.
This scene highlights the bias news media has for victims and offenders, usually labeling young white men as saints.
Afterward social services shuts down, leaving Fleck without the medication he needs. The social worker tells
This marks the beginning of his downward spiral into insanity.
Because of this, when Fleck tries to perform a stand-up show, it goes poorly and he has trouble delivering his own jokes due to his condition.
A Gotham talk show host Murray Franklin picks up the clip and mocks him on his show. This hurts Fleck who has been an avid fan of Franklin his whole life.
Fleck reacts by falling farther down the psychiatric stairwell as his relationship with his mother deteriorates and her health worsens.
He then suffocates her when she is in the hospital after learning some of her medical and mental history, which led to his extensive childhood abuse.
After this and some more murders, Fleck goes on the Murray show, introduced as the Joker, showing Flecks full irreparable mental state. And gets into an argument about society with Franklin.
Joker then confesses to the murder of the businessmen and labels Franklin as a bad man for mocking others. Joker tells one last knock-knock joke where the punchline his Franklin being shot multiple times on live television. And this event sparks the civil unrest to turn into riots.
The movie closes with Fleck in a psychiatric hospital, leading the audience to question whether the events took place or were in Fleck’s mind.
While the plot itself is a lot to unpack, Joaquin Phoenix was a phenomenal asset to this movie. He made everything easy to follow and consistent. He turns the character of Fleck into something terrifyingly human, almost to the point of understanding and feeling bad for Fleck.
He also portrays the insanity down to the detail, for example, having the character be right-handed when sane and left-handed when insane. It was the perfect mix of disturbing and realistic.
While Fleck’s descent into madness was a slow one, it turns out to be a fascinating backstory, even for someone who doesn’t keep up with the DC Universe.
Another standout character was Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro. He brought in elements of charisma, making the audience question whether he was laughing at or with Arthur and wondering if he is the “bad guy” or not. He was realistic in the portrayal of a late show personality, giving off a similar vibe of Jimmy Kimmel.
Joker’s overall standout skill though was utilizing cinematic effects to help carry the story.
The most common effect involved the color schemes of the film. When Fleck was sane, the colors stuck to a beige hue, which switched to a blue during the realization of his mom’s condition, then to all bright colors when he is fully insane.
Another was the camera movement. Different shots occurred at different levels of sanity, something easily realized after seeing the movie a few times. It is one of those movies where every time a person sees it, they can spot something new.
Joker also used a lot of silhouettes. These were a good touch in making it look eerie, yet beautiful in a way and human. One in particular shows Fleck with wet and newly green hair in an effect that was almost breathtaking.
However, some “cheap” effects were used, like the cliches of using the light of a TV, flashing lights, or getting information only through news stories.
These were scattered around the film, but acted as a hit or miss. Some scenes made these effects work, but others would have had more impact if the cinematographer left it with a flat color.
This movie, however, did have a fairly small budget for a blockbuster film, using only $55 million according to Express.
Overall, Joker was a phenomenal movie with good use of backstory and special effects and something just human enough to give anybody goosebumps.