With the Joker film arriving into the theatres recently, it sure has caught the attention and interest of many. Directed by Todd Phillips, this R-rated film tells the origin story of the Joker, Batman’s most famed opponent. However, this highly anticipated film has sparked up several controversies and critics even before it was released. Please kindly note that there will be spoilers up ahead, so consider yourselves warned. Without further ado, let us dive right into it.

Set back in the 1980s in an urban area depicted as Gotham City, the movie portrays the descent of Arthur Fleck – starred by Joaquin Phoenix – into madness. Arthur lives with his elderly mother and despite of his dreams of being a stand-up comedian, he is only able to pin down a job barely enough to support him financially by dressing up as a clown and attract customers outside of stores and perform at children’s hospitals. With clown makeups and floppy clown shoes on, while twirling around and holding up an advertising banner outside of a store, Arthur gets mocked and beaten up by a gang in an alley. Upon learning about the fact that Arthur was attacked, his colleague, Randall, lends him a gun.

However, this ‘kind’ act by Randall gets Arthur into trouble as the gun falls out of Arthur’s pocket while performing at a children’s hospital. Randall frames him stating that Arthur bought the gun himself and consequently, Arthur loses his only job. Arthur suffers from a condition where he bursts into laughter inexplicably and uncontrollably at inappropriate moments. This causes Arthur to get beaten up by three drunken businessmen on his way back at the subway after being fired. In self-defense, he shot two and executed the other one. Being fired and murdering people on the same day, this stresses Arthur further mentally.

Arthur then tried performing at comedy shows but ends up failing miserably as he is unable to control his laughter and has difficulties in delivering his jokes. As a consequence, talk-show host, Murray Franklin, puts up videos and clips of Arthur’s performances on his show, humiliating Arthur. Arthur’s sick mother, Penny, often writes letters to Thomas Wayne, a billionaire mayoral candidate, in hopes of getting help as she claims to have worked for Thomas a long time ago. At one instance, Penny writes a letter and reminds Arthur to post the letter to Thomas, however Arthur’s curiosity prompted him to open the letter up and read it to himself. Through the contents of the letter, Arthur learns that he is Thomas’s illegitimate son and his mother’s secrecy regarding this issue further infuriates Arthur. Later, Penny is hospitalized following a visit from two detectives investigating about Arthur’s involvements in the killing of three businessmen in the subway.

Upon confronting Thomas, Arthur is told that he was adopted and that Penny is delusional. With disbelief, Arthur steals Penny’s case files from the Arkham State Hospital only to learn about the harsh truth he was told about, that in fact he was adopted as a baby and that he and Penny was harmed by her abusive boyfriend. Feeling as if the whole world is turning its back on him, a distressed Arthur finds his way to the hospital and deliberately ends Penny’s life.

Due to the surprising admiration of many towards Arthur’s performance clips, Murray invites Arthur to appear on his show. Whilst preparing, Arthur gets an unexpected visit from Randall and ex-colleague Gary, Arthur murders Randall but is merciful towards Gary due to him treating Arthur well in the past. As Arthur appears on the show, he tells inappropriate jokes, confesses to the subway murder and goes on about how society deserts the less fortunate and those deprived of voting rights. Then, as a price for mocking Arthur, Arthur kills Murray and is arrested afterwards.

The movie received several critics and concerns on whether it can inspire or prompt real life gun violence. On the other hand, filmmakers and several parties argue that it is highly unlikely. Phoenix’s realistic Joker is quite a contrast compared to the other supervillain and ingenious Jokers, as quoted by National Review that “Fleck is not, by any measure, a cunning mastermind; it is evident that he is not even the master of his own faculties.” Moreover, what makes this Joker film one of a kind is that Phoenix acts out his role impeccably and meticulously. Another interesting aspect of the film is the ambiguity in the film’s plot which leaves much to the imagination of the viewers, questions such as whether Thomas is really Arthur’s father, whether Penny’s case files were forged by Thomas to cover the tracks of him having an illegitimate son, and probably the most puzzling of all, whether all the events depicted in the film did actually happen or are all just in Arthur’s mind, still lingers in the air. Nevertheless, this film is considered by many to be worth watching and is undoubtedly backed by the fact that it continues to break box office records even weeks after its debut in theatres.

Not to be missed out, this film highlights and stresses out the importance of mental health. Stigmas surrounding mental health should be stopped, it is crucial to note that seeking help and treatment is not something to be ashamed of and that it is highly encouraged.

“It doesn’t have to take over your life, it doesn’t have to define you as a person, it’s just important that you ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.” – Demi Lovato

Words by: Devin Tedja
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