I purchased Joker on a bit of a whim, thinking that I would give this film a chance. I’d heard great things about the latest installment to the DC universe. I’ve never been one to read the Batman comics, but I’ve loved the movies. I also was curious as to how the Joker became the psychopath that he is.

First, the atmosphere. Gotham City has always had a feel like New York to me. It’s got this metropolis feel that makes you think of big cities in general. It’s a world where people are struggling: to clean up their garbage, to keep their jobs. It’s a world that parallels the troubles of our own world in eerie ways. The credits themselves have a feel of something like a 60s or 70s or maybe even 80s feel to them.

Next, the music. Hildur Gudnadottir, who did the music for the show Chernobyl, outdid herself in this dark, haunting score. There are moments where the songs sound like something from The Dark Knight, where it’s jumping into the reveal of the Joker himself. Her ability to write serious music is compelling and hard to get away from. The score compliments the film very well.

Then, there’s Arthur Fleck. A guy down on his luck, trying his best to keep his job afloat, his mother in good health, and his laughing condition under control. He’s just like any other man who is struggling to keep all these balls in the air, trying desperately to juggle everything at once. At one poignant part in the film, he tells his mother, “I don’t want you to worry about money. You don’t need to worry about me, either.” When Arthur looses his job because his gun–the gun that one of his co-workers gave to him to protect himself–which falls on the floor in the children’s ward of a hospital, he starts to spiral pretty quickly.

Because he cannot afford his medications–he’s taking seven different kinds–he stops taking his meds. Social services gets cut, so he no longer needs to worry about going to see his social worker.

As he leaves work for the last time, he put black marker on the sign, which now reads, “Don’t Smile.”

Arthur also struggles to get his comedy routine off the ground. While he does attend clubs and writes down his ideas for his jokes, it’s clear that because of his delivery, he’s not going anywhere. Just as he’s setting up his jokes, he laughs. He laughs before it’s appropriate to laugh. It looks bad that he’s laughing, even if uncontrollably, at his own jokes.

The condition that Arthur has makes him laugh at odd moments: on the bus, on the subway, at the comedy club, and when he’s alone by himself in his apartment that he shares with his mother. This type of laughter is the closet to crying that I’ve ever heard. It sounds like Arthur is either laughing inappropriately–a shrill, barking laugh–or he’s trying to keep himself from laughing.

Because of his random outbursts of laughter, this gets him in trouble. He’s beat up often in the film, a sign that people view him as a freak. Even the guys that he works with thinks he’s odd due to his behavior. Arthur is an outcast in this sense, because of his medical condition.

When Arthur kills the jerks on the subway who were harassing a woman, it gives him a sense of clarity. For Arthur, killing those men allows him a power to create his own self, to become someone stronger. Because he protected himself from getting further beaten up, Arthur feels not only startled by his actions, but also reveals in them. In the bathroom, he dances out his emotional response to killing three of the Wayne Enterprise men.

Joker 2019. Bathroom dance scene.

Now that Arthur feels powerful, he confronts the man he believes to be his father. He also attends the show that his mom so loved, dressing up in his Joker costume and dyeing his hair green.

The Joker, in this instance, gets the last laugh. He rises to power as the people of the city rally around him.

Joker is a serious and brooding movie. It’s a film that just isn’t about the Joker so much as what can happen–albeit in drastic terms–when someone with mental illness is cast aside by society. They become an outcast, often tormented, and end up going on a violent outrage. This story also humanizes the Joker, focusing on his personal struggles and his very real mental illness. This is a film that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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