Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix is a deep, dark, disturbing often confusing film that delves into the psychotic background of the old Batman nemesis, the Joker and how he became that way. This is by no means a light-hearted character romp, but a serious background character study of a mentally disturbed young man disregarded by society.
Joaquin Phoenix turns in a stellar performance as Arthur Fleck a mentally disturbed young man who lives with and cares for his aging mother in an old apartment in Gotham City. He washes her hair, dances with her and feeds her. Fleck works part-time as a street advertising clown and fledgling comedian who doesn’t get too many laughs at a local comedy club. He also is inflicted with a mental disorder that causes him to have ticks and burst out laughing loudly in public at the most inopportune times that gets him into big trouble as people think he is laughing at them.
One night a fellow employee friend at the club gives him a gun to protect himself. While riding home on a subway late one night three men are harassing a young woman in the subway car. Fleck develops his affliction and bursts out laughing. The men suddenly turn on him and he ends up shooting and killing them and runs off. The papers are filled with stories of a mysterious subway killer the next day.
Fleck also has a strange attraction for TV talk show host Murray Franken (Robert DeNiro) who also plays into his mental psyche and eventually appears on his show.
As time goes on we meet Thomas Wayne – a rich, mean man – who is running for mayor of Gotham. He lives in a gated mansion and everyone hates him. One day when Fleck is walking to the mansion to speak with Wayne he sees his young son Bruce who is about eight years old. Does the name Bruce Wayne ring a bell? Fleck plays with the boy through the bars of the gate until a butler turns him away.
Fleck later runs into Wayne at a theater and Wayne informs him that he was adopted and his mother used to work for him, but he had to let her go because she was delusional and he had her committed to the mental asylum.
Fleck goes to the asylum and looks at his mother’s records and finds out he was abandoned by his real mother 30 years ago and adopted and abused by his current mother and her boyfriends and once tied to the radiator. This really flips him out.
One night there is a demonstration against Wayne in the city. When Wayne and his wife are emerging from a theater, they are killed by a masked man in a clown mask that all the demonstrators are wearing and he and his wife are killed right in front of Bruce. This is the beginning of the legend of Batman as most followers of him are familiar with.
Although I find this to be a very dark and disturbing film, I also found it to be a fascinating character study and it has done well. So far Joker has the highest-grossing take for an R rated film in history which to me shows there are a lot of sick people out there. It has even surpassed the highly successful The Avengers. A sequel is in the making and that should be interesting too. Will that involve Batman and the Joker? Stay tuned.
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