You’ve seen it and heard it countless times. You’ve been assaulted by articles and news broadcasts with concerns and praises over this film. It seems that everything there is to say about this movie has been said over and over, but there is no denying that Todd Phillips’ Joker is a phenomenon. It’s called the movie of the year, a masterpiece. It’s been the center of controversy for its thematic allusion to “incel” culture. Whatever your take is, this movie has had a major impact on cinema that will surely change its trajectory for years to come.
There is a heavy factor of nostalgia playing into the buzz around this film. It’s common knowledge that this movie borrows inspiration from Scorsese flicks like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. There are references to another film less talked about, but I find equally important: Sidney Lumet’s Network. This 1976 masterwork is often called a prophetic film, and comments on the way media deliberately shapes the collective conscience of its viewers. Joker references it directly in a shot of network channel televisions all displaying different newscasts of Arthur Fleck killing Murray Franklin, which plays the same in Network when its main character Howard Beale is assassinated on-air. Today it seems the prophecy of Network is fulfilled, and Todd Phillips revisiting this in Joker is entirely appropriate.
Lawrence Sher, director of photography, has worked with Todd before on movies such as the Hangover series. His work is undoubtedly beautiful, and finally feels realized in a character drama like Joker after a long career of producing Hollywood comedies. The cool palette makes the fictional Gotham a chilling place and heightens the discomfort of Arthur’s situation.
Joaquin’s performance is not only mesmerizing, but groundbreaking. When he is on the screen (which happens to be nearly every minute of its runtime) you simply cannot look away. The commitment he makes to his characters truly defines the attitude of a picture. There is nothing but truth in his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, and his place in the Oscar race seems like a done deal. Aided by a pristine soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir, this story of mental recession is the most effective told in years.
The phenomenon of Joker marks a milestone in cinematic history. From the emotive grace of Joaquin’s dancing to the fumbled sprinting across Gotham, this film will move, inspire, anger and divide the viewers for decades to come.