By Jack Dunn | Campus News Editor
Everyone has their favorite version of the Joker: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jack Nicholson in Batman or even Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series. Each version has passed on a unique interpretation of the iconic Batman nemesis: a man who wants to see the world burn, a man who wants to bring Gotham to its knees, a prankster.
Joaquin Phoenix’s version of The Joker is none of these. Instead, this portrayal of the Joker (or as he is known as in this movie, Arthur Fleck) is just a regular man who has his own struggles in a gritty, grimy Gotham City. He’s no evil genius, nor is he skilled in any kind of combat. He’s just a guy who struggles with his mental health.
Really, this movie doesn’t even need to be called The Joker. It could stand on its own without the iconic character’s name.
Now, I don’t mean this is a bad movie. It’s a really good film. It’s a good homage to Taxi Driver. Phoenix’s performance is incredible. The look of Gotham really makes you feel like this is a place where if you aren’t already at the top, you will struggle.
It is a refreshing change to get a definitive look at the series of events that push him over the edge. He struggles with his condition in which he “laughs uncontrollably” even if the circumstances are inappropriate. He struggles to remain a member of the clown union even when things start to beat him down (literally). Even the discoveries he makes about himself and his past contribute to his slide down the slope. It’s uncomfortable, unsettling and awkward to watch.
Director Todd Phillips’s decision to show events through Fleck’s eyes was smart because it keeps the story focused on a man and his struggles with his mental health. Its depiction really helps you generate an understanding of how someone can feel like the world is against them, that the help they receive isn’t really helping, or that those meant to help them aren’t listening to them.
The concerns that this movie would inspire violence are not unfounded. The Joker is a historically violent character, and the warning from the victims of The Dark Knight Rises shooting should be taken seriously. I felt safe when I saw the movie. But if you don’t feel comfortable going to the theater to see this movie, you can wait to see it at home.
Overall, this is a good movie, but if you are expecting a close interpretation of the Joker, this is not the movie for you. If you are looking for an interpretation of the Joker that could very well show up in our world, this movie is a good look at what that might be.