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Todd Philips takes a deep dive into the drama genre and emerges as a dark horse rather than the donkey he reluctantly became in the clammy confinements of comedy. No one is laughing now, because Philips has proved that he can take the reins with rage and ride off into the darkest corners of the DC universe. In the center of it all, we have Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, who certainly wasn’t a joker in the award season line-up. He arguably delivers his best performance as Arthur Fleck, the awkward and mentally unstable mama’s boy who proves a product of society in the worst ways possible…

The film is a character study and I agree that it relies heavily on Joaquin Phoenix. But Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, who then eventually becomes Joker. That is the story it wants to tell. How Fleck breaks down and breaks free from everything around him, emerging as a phoenix from the filthy ashes of a society in early apocalypse. As with the title card in the beginning, Joaquin as JOKER really does take up the entire screen with his towering performance of this pitiful lunatic luring the audience into his twisted mind. The movie grows from within Arthur, telling its story from the inside out, digging its way out through the dirt. Joker, or Arthur Fleck, is the jumping board for the story that jumpstarts every single element around him. In the reality of the film, Arthur is a product of society, but in the realities of filmmaking, the society is a projection of Arthur.

It truly is a film build in and around Arthur in every sense of the word, all the way down to the framing, camera and lenses used – large format cameras, often relying on intimate close-ups or distancing wides, combined with the use of telephoto lenses and the constant bokeh-blurred-background used to truly isolate the isolated. Joaquin as Arthur is secured as the main focus, literally, closing out the world around him. All the close-ups are uncomfortable, cunning and uncanny, while the wides are isolated, atmospheric and awkward. I wouldn’t argue, that parts of the technical aspect and possibly the entire story aspect is very explicitly presented, but honestly, it isn’t more on the nose than the clown wearing it. I don’t know if that saying works, but my point is that it’s quite obvious what the intention is from the start, and it never tries to be anything else. Philips isn’t the best writer and he could improve as a director too, but as for many people working in comedy, they seem to understand human emotion better than most and he has a flair for creating atmosphere too.

It may be a very surfaced film filled with dents, about a man suffocating in society and eventually rising to the surface where he can finally breathe. But surfaced or not, that very surface is deliciously rusty, all scratched up and worn out. It just works, and even with a limp script, Philips lifts this world and the character right off the pages – the comic book and the movie script. We feel Arthur’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and motivations hiding behind the façade… Joaquin has taken a lot of the credit, and rightfully so, but one shouldn’t wash away Todd tugging away behind the curtain, pulling all the strings to this amazing setup for Joaquin. The performance is undeniably exceptional, but the atmosphere equally so. All the technical aspects mentioned earlier, combined with the towering score that made me sink down in my seat watching this in the cinema. The feel of the movie is so demanding and so dictating in a way. Some may not like that and view it as being too obvious, too much or too attention seeking. And in a way I would agree. But it is hard to fault a movie for the fundament it builds and presents us with. That you wanted another film with another angle and another execution, that’s fine, but in no way do I feel like the film isn’t true to itself from beginning to end.

Also, no one can deny the underlying layer of obvious yet important criticism towards the system that eventually creates Joker. That aspect is very real. I honestly admire the film for its boldness and bleakness in this area, which also seems to be what caused the controversy surrounding the film. Some may see it as a joke with no punchline, some may feel it as a punch with no joke, but the fact is that a joker can be anyone and anything and the controversy is almost a contradiction in itself. When Arthur finally rises up in the midst of riots and roars, while wounded and bleeding, he turns hurting to happiness and completes the transformation into JOKER with a smile created from pain… grinning outside and in. And at the very end, we get this little epilogue of our hero… born in hell… living out his own heaven… walking into the sunset in his own twisted, almost taunting way. Because the enemy is not he, but thee who wants him captured and not cared for. They don’t care… they just send in the clowns… the genuine clowns of our society. Not those with make-up, but those that make up excuses with made up facts. Now that's the true jokers, ladies and gentlemen - and indeed... they wouldn’t get it.