Phoenix outstanding in portrayal of ‘Joker’

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Phoenix outstanding in portrayal of ‘Joker’

Joaquin Phoenix stars in "Joker."

Joaquin Phoenix stars in "Joker."

Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros. Pictures / TNS

Joaquin Phoenix stars in "Joker."

Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros. Pictures / TNS

Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros. Pictures / TNS

Joaquin Phoenix stars in "Joker."

Andrea Velazquez, Staff Writer

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You should be terrified of someone who has nothing left to lose. “Joker” illustrates that. Set in late 1970s Gotham City, party clown and aspiring comedian Arthur Fleck is in pursuit of connection and life. His, however, seems to be in a downward spiral. He lives with his elderly mother, gets jumped on the street, is bullied by strangers, and his last source of help for his mental state is cut from the city’s budget.

Fleck also suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably, often at inappropriate times. He pines after his next-door neighbor and fantasizes about appearing on the Murray Franklin late night show.

The city is in cultural and political distress. The 99 percent are stuffed to the brim with vitriol and their patience is wearing thin. Then a tragedy strikes on the subway, and the city turns it into a triumph.

A killer clown tearing down the 1 percent, the privileged, the ones in power. It becomes a movement that drives the city, and Arthur Fleck, into madness.

If you’ve heard about this film, you’ve heard about the controversy. Shortly after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, critics were adamant in their belief that this film would shake the world. That it would shatter our ideologies and views as we know them, make us look into ourselves in ways we purposely try not to. Surrounded by talk about possible shootings at theaters mirroring 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises” shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the media turned their attention to warning audiences that the film glorifies a violent murderer and aggrandizes his horrific crimes.

Joker kills and laughs and dances afterwards with no remorse, no guilt or shame for his crimes. Gotham’s 99 percent idolizes him, sees him as an epochal symbol. The media saw “Kill The Rich” as the main theme.

Though everyone perceives and reacts to different films differently, “Joker” is not really glorifying anything. It’s telling the story of a man riddled with mental illness, marginalized by society, living without proper help and guidance, who becomes so engulfed in his head with fantasies and lies and grandiosity – that ultimately drive him to madness.

This is the Joker; the archetypal madman. Hollywood and America in general love to create and see poorly written, crazy and evil characters with no regard for any psychological themes just so the hero can take them down.

There’s an unspoken layer of one of the greatest debates in human history in the film: nature versus nurture. In this case, was Arthur Fleck born a psychopathic killer, or was he made one by his environment? There are pieces of both in him, which is refreshing to see in a blockbuster.

Nothing is ever really black or white- no one is ever truly born crazy or evil. This film tells the origin of one of the most iconic villains and it tells it in a way that is honest and raw.

Controversy aside, this is an incredibly well-made film on a technical aspect. The cinematography is visually stunning and profound. There are clear visual references to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” an homage of sorts, given that the two plots mirror each other on a surface level. The score is a haunting composition full of deep bravados that fit seamlessly into each scene, along with the soundtrack full of 60s and 70s rock classics and Frank Sinatra.

As for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance? It’s outstanding, raw, and excruciatingly genuine. Apart from losing a visible amount of weight to transform into Arthur Fleck, there’s always a certain degree of emotional baggage that Phoenix seems to carry in his roles. He doesn’t play people in films- he seems to be them. He is easily one of the best actors of his generation, and there’s really no one else who could’ve played this version of The Joker the way he did.

If everything else seems to turn you away from this film, his performance alone is worth a trip to the theater. Acting like his does not come often on screen. You may love the film or hate it, but there’s no denying it’s a piece of cinema that will stay in societal memories for a long time.

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