By George Brown, Alice Frost & Noah Abbott |
The Joker earned plaudits and sharp criticisms over this past week. From its social commentary to its imagery, Joker brazenly earned super levels of attention. A panel of three Anchor members review and rate the different elements of the movie: imagery, plot, and character development.
The Imagery of Joker: 9/10
The use of imagery in Joker was a bit like a bull in a china shop: anything but subtle, though unashamedly deliberate and undeniably effective. In the first scene, Arthur Fleck holds a sign reading “Everything Must Go” outside a closing store, foreshadowing the society-changing destruction to come. From the first scene to one of the last, the crescendo of violence and chaos leading to Joker being idolised on a smashed-up police car; he wipes the blood out of his mouth to form his signature smile, as if it is all this bloodshed that has finally made him happy.
Joker is a marvellous spectacle of attention-to-detail imagery. From the gritty, New York-esque vibes of Gotham City, to the accompanying chilling score of Hildur Guðnadóttir. During the film’s final act, we witness Joker stride down his apartment building hallway, kitted out in a colourful three-piece suit, freshly dyed venom-green hair and iconic face-paint; a perfectly orchestrated scene, capturing Arthur Fleck’s final descent into darkness.
Joker’s imagery is its strongest asset. Grandios and imaginitavely menacing, many of Joker’s iconic scenes will be etched into cinema history as nods to brilliantly framed visual artistry. Expertly impersonated by Joaquin Pheonix (Gladiator, 2000, and Her, 2013), Arthur Fleck’s story is picturesque, telling a gritty tale of a man’s descent into madness. Shots of Fleck’s climb up and then descent down the stairs of sanity are nothing short of magnificence. As a cinematic experience, Joker’s imagery feels something akin to a shock and awe mission.
Plot Pacing and Conflict: 9/10
The plot in contrast was less immediately apparent, as slowly we were drip-fed the events that turn Arthur insane. At no point did this feel tedious and I would say it was practically perfect in terms of its pacing, I was intrigued for the first hour and utterly transfixed by the madness of the second. Minor character issues aside, this was arguably the film’s biggest strength.
When the trailers for Joker first released it was the darker origin story that initially drew me in, that and the guarantee of a spell-binding performance by Joaquin Phoenix. The plot’s pacing doesn’t feel too slow or rushed, and the chaotic, climactic scenes are hardly underwhelming. This modern interpretation conjures up uncomfortable, yet important discussion regarding themes of inciting violence and declining mental health – rarely referred to in comic-book films.
Joker’s plotline feels like a ticking time bomb. Tick, tick, tick. Once Randall (Glen Fleshler, Billions), handed Arthur a gun, his fate became sealed. He would become Joker, the King of Chaos. Every moment society trod upon him, the clock would tick closer, the spark on the gunpowder trail sped onwards. Two parallel scenes, each involving Fleck being beaten by thugs, flipped the script. Arthur Fleck took the beatings in the first act, but Joker fought back.
Development/Depiction of Arthur: 7/10
I enjoyed the slow-burn of Arthur’s transformation. Critics say a character has to earn the big moments or turning points of a film and that is certainly the case. I do think it has a slightly problematic relationship with mental illness as while the system’s failure to support Arthur is highlighted, both his and his mother’s mental issues are used as triggers for the atrocious acts to come.
You find yourself sympathising for Arthur Fleck, even when you really shouldn’t. He’s a disturbed and concerning character, yet he’s the result of an impoverished and harsh society. Arthur Fleck’s development into Joker is a chilling thrill-ride from start to finish; you may not necessarily be rooting for him, but you’re certainly on the edge of your seat nervously awaiting his every move.
Joker’s development rightfully churned out a multitude of criticisms. The movie took Arthur Fleck, a man struggling with mental illness, and turned him into a psychotically unabashed villain. As Alice notes, we pity and may even root for Arthur. In Joker, we have a societal outcast, where in his estrangement finds assurance in blood-shed. It builds its foundation upon twisting mental illness into violence which is applauded en masse in Gotham City; Arthur Fleck, now transformed into Joker, joyously revels in being celebrated for murder and inciting city-wide chaos. To me, Joker unashamedly balances on the edge of recklessness.
To summarise my thoughts is easy: I watched the film two nights ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It is, in the best possible way, haunting. As a piece of art it has huge dramatic value, with gorgeous shots and clever lines aplenty whilst socially its controversy just means it has sparked discussion and for me that is never a bad thing.
Fascinating character development, as well as some equally compelling dialogue and a flawlessly sculpted musical score makes up for 122 minutes of what some might go as far to call a masterpiece. If not, Todd Phillip’s unsettling depiction of the Joker is surely one that will go down in cinematic history as an unforgettable retelling of a comic-book villain as old as time.
Interestingly enough, I wanted to knock the movie for its social commentary. However, I found myself constantly thinking about its clever imagery, the numerous times it made me speechless, and audacious and visceral scenes play out. Despite Joker’s cold-hearted depiction of society, I can’t help but consider Joker cinematic art.
There’s some of our thoughts on the movie. Now, it’s time to share yours’. Will it go down in cinematic history? What do you think of Joker’s social commentary? How did Joaquin Pheonix do as the iconic Joker villain?