By Dylan Haslam
Since his first appearance in Batman #1 on April 25th, 1940, the Joker has always been defined relative to Batman. Cesar Romero’s Joker (1966) was defined by Adam West’s Batman as a crazy individual with a slight passion for crime. Jack Nicholson’s Joker (1989) was defined by Michael Keaton’s Batman in that he was a product of a fight with Batman. He fell into a bath of chemicals and was transformed. Thus, his goal became vengeance. Mark Hamill’s Joker (1992) was defined by Kevin Conroy’s Batman as a criminal who seeks to get his way no matter who he hurts. Heath Ledger’s Joker (2008) was defined by The Dark Knight Christian Bale. This Joker was unlike the previous, wishing to teach society a lesson rather than personally gain anything himself. He holds no attachment to his life or the lives of others and puts all his cards on the table.
Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck in the 2019 film Joker, however, is completely different. Rather than being a villain defined by the caped crusader, he lays the groundwork for molding society into something that will eventually be the thing that defines Batman. Phoenix steps outside the realm of how we normally define and portray the Joker, shedding the shadows of his predecessors and leaving the Joker title and Clown Prince of Crime nickname behind. Phoenix instead becomes the Clown Prince of Madness, adopting an entirely new quality. The Joker has always been treated poorly by society, but this typically follows his famous acts. In the 2019 film, he is treated poorly because of such actions. This Joker was simply trying to live his best life and bring laughter and joy to a gloomy world. He was, instead, molded by society, and despite having fought hard to stay positive, he was consistently broken down, ultimately embracing his nature and assuming the role of the Joker. Thus, he began to inspire people to reevaluate and redefine societal norms. The Bat Symbol in DC has always been a symbol of hope, courage, and overcoming adversity; Joker, however, stands as a symbol for the coming change in Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal.
We can see elements of our world in this movie. We see parts of society that may not affect us directly but do however present their version of Hell for others. This movie allows us to analyze society through Psychological, Sociological, Philosophical, and even Political Scientific lenses to realize that every society throughout history has had a breaking point. Something that spikes protests, changes opinions and inspires change. Though Phoenix’s Joker is fictional, it touches on some real ideas.
I would highly recommend watching this movie. However, if you have been through traumatic events in your lifetime, do proceed with caution. It contains scenes of extreme violence, gore, and domestic violence. That is why its restricted rating is appropriate. It may be disturbing to audience members, but that is the unique goal of the movie. The movie covers some pretty real issues and will hit differently for everyone. Its goal is to make the audience uneasy about its contents.
Lastly, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker contains a unique story that has neither heroes or villains. Rather, it contains people in their most natural state, those who question the realm of their existence. People that want more, that dream, and people that experience love and loss. Every character wins as much as they lose in this film. Phoenix’s character particularly had a lot going on. The question that this movie leaves the audience with is whether the events are truly taking place as they appear, or if they are even taking place at all. This movie brings to mind a joke, but “you wouldn’t get it.”