“Joker” movie struggles in plot but is cinematically brilliant

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Infographic by Madeline Klayer. Source: Box Office Mojo. Photo courtesy of Forbes.

   “You either love it or you hate it.” That’s what my friend said when I told her my plan to see the new “Joker” movie. It felt like everyone was talking about it, and as a self-proclaimed movie-connoisseur, I felt obligated to check it out for myself. So, come along with me on my journey of one of the darkest, but strangely the most beautiful, movies I’ve seen in a long time.

   First off, let me clarify what I mean when I say that the film is beautiful. We often think of beauty as something idealistic, something that would be visually appealing to, say, a child. But, not all beautiful things have this dreamy quality, and that’s what shocked me about “Joker”. It is beautiful, yet seemingly terrifying. 

   What stood out was the carefully crafted cinematic elements: the angles, the contrast of light against dark. There was a scene that stood out to me when the protagonist, Arthur, painted on white makeup with clown-like details smeared across his mouth and eyes – the signature Joker look. He strolls into a public bathroom, and there are about five minutes of him simply moving his body slowly and carefully: stretching his arms and dancing in slow motion. It visually shows Arthur’s plummet into more and more madness, and his transformation into the villain we now know as the Joker.

   Scenes such as the infamous dancing on the steps perfectly combine an alluring setting with the mastery of Joaquin Phoenix’s skills. He lifts what is basically an entire movie based on a depressed man spiraling out of control.

   Perhaps I’m biased when I say that Phoenix was nearly flawless in the film. I was first introduced to him as an actor when I saw him as a struggling Navy veteran in “The Master” and instantly became obsessed with his variety of in-depth and personal portrayals. You can see his hard work in his thin, emaciated frame, and according to Insider News, he lost 52 pounds. Phoenix has this unique effect; a way about him that makes your stomach churn, a pitiful yet intriguing persona, and a laugh that haunts you. A constant, echoing laugh that historically makes or breaks this villain.

   Phoenix is no doubt what carries this entire movie. Plot holes, when comic movies must be so plot-driven, makes the movie itself not very impressive. Esquire even wrote an article on “30 Joker Plot Holes”, outlining a few problems such as the excess of “little people” jokes, and the pacing as sometimes too fast and painfully slow otherwise. These are a few issues among many. However, the movie survives and kept my interest because of Phoenix and his high-class acting. He’s lost out on three Oscars before, so maybe this will finally be his big break.

   As expected, comparisons are being made to previous Jokers, and especially so with Heath Ledger. It is widely thought that Ledger’s Joker is the most legendary, and I would have to agree. He lost his mind filming and captivated audiences across the world as a result. However, it is unfair to make this comparison to Phoenix’s Joker because they show two very different sides to the same coin. Ledger is the story of the current villain we know, while “Joker” shows the background – the story of Arthur the failed clown. It’s difficult to compare the same character at drastically different life stages. 

   A major controversy that seems to be getting critics heated is the violence that can often be sudden and graphic, but frankly, complaining about it feels like an overreaction. There is one scene in particular where a shooting breaks out on a subway and three businessmen are violently murdered. Although gun violence is sudden in multiple scenes, people act as if violence isn’t already a primal part of American society. We are surrounded by crime on the news, video games, and slasher films, and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” prove that violence inarguably has a place in the most memorable films.

   Mainly, “Joker” was wonderfully gut-wrenching, but not all it was hyped up to be. I still have mixed feelings about whether to look at Phoenix’s incredibly unhinged performance or remember the strange pacing and plot unevenness that is a detriment to the actor’s hard work. I know one thing for sure: I don’t think it’s a love or hate movie, because even if you dislike it, it will be like nothing you’ve seen before. This has also no doubt been a reminder not to fall victim to the hype for a movie that doesn’t live up to those high expectations.

Madeline Klayer, Online Editor

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