“Joker” raises the bar for superhero movies

“Joker” is not for everyone. From the first scene, an oppressive depression saturates the film, and its unflinchingly deep dive into the stigmas around mental illness is disturbing and dark. It’s fantastic. 

No matter how dark the film gets, the grimy cinematography coupled with Joaquin Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance makes it impossible to look away. His sympathetic facade slowly burns away as the film progresses, giving way to his chilling insanity. The haunting, stomach-turning score also does a great job at conveying the madness brewing in Fleck, although it was slightly overused. 

“Joker” is the story of Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a desperate man barely managing to fight back against his inner demons while trying to support his sick mother. He earns pennies as a clown for hire until he’s fired, shortly after a life-changing brush with death. Now, off his medication, he’s at the mercy of his mental illness, which begins to blur the line between reality and fantasy.

The film takes a lot of inspiration from Martin Scorsese, specifically his films “King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver.” Both of these films deal with mentally ill protagonists, and “King of Comedy” is about a delusional stand-up comedian character not unlike the Joker. In a nod to these two classics, Robert De Niro, who plays the lead in both Scorsese films, also makes an appearance in “Joker” as a talk show host similar to his victim in “King of Comedy.” 

Both films are phenomenal, and it was a clever decision to look to them for guidance. In the end, “Joker” still stands on its own as a unique and original character study. 

When all is said and done, “Joker” remains a fascinating glimpse into a sick man’s tortured mind, and what can happen when he finally snaps. I give “Joker” a nine out of ten.