“Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by” – Nat King Cole
Although the song itself encapsulates Joker’s state of mind, it beggars a question as to what causes the emerald haired villain those heartaches? If one wants to know about the proverbial and sometimes literal pushes that drove Joker to lunacy, look no further than Todd Phillip’s standalone feature. Until now, we harboured empathy for the whole gunning down of Wayne family and the way Bruce grows up to be Batman but here Todd Phillips offers a deep and visceral insight into the mind of DC’s most noted arch-nemesis.
Delivering a career-defining performance, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Joker evokes the most raw emotions felt by the victims of late-era capitalism where the class-divide is characterised by establishment’s stigmatisation of the poor, jobless and disenfranchised. Living in a squalor with his old mother, Arthur Fleck makes ends meet with lowering stabs at stand-up comedy and clown performances. Afflicted by pathological laughter, the character’s gradual descent into insanity also marks a precursor to a grotesque form of self-discovery. Fleck’s criminality is a direct response to the torment meted out by society that is torn asunder by dire poverty and protests. While Thomas Wayne’s dismissal of the ignored section of society reflects his complacency, Joker’s crimes, by extension, ignite a Lenin-style city-wide movement albeit with the slant of clown-masks against the 80’s Gotham City’s bourgeois.
“Afflicted by pathological laughter, the character’s gradual descent into insanity also marks a precursor to a grotesque form of self-discovery.”
Todd Phillips takes liberty with the origin story, advancing his own spin to it. The movie takes chilling turns in joker’s journey. From being a failed comedian to a menacing Clown Prince of Crime, we see the gradual character development and the motivations that were hitherto enigmatic and nebulous to most of us, made clear through the course of the screenplay.