Joker (2019): ‘An Origin Story’ – A Film Review

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So, the character of The Joker is perhaps one of the more famous comic book villains in existence. His perfect opposition and challenging of the superhero Batman is legendary. However, despite many iterations of the character being released there is a sense of never quite knowing the origins of such a character. Many times the character tells conflicting stories about how a man like The Joker could come to be. Now, when Darth Vader was given his origin story, the villain was never quite the same again. There is a sense that having a back story for an evil character robs them of their menace. But the passion project of Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, looks to explore this in much more depth none-the-less.

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Characters and Characterisation

This was always going to have to be a tricky story. We’ve seen many variations of The Joker in recent times, ranging from Heath Ledger‘s amazing interpretation to whatever happened to Jared Leto. As such, this is a beloved villain but a leading character? There is the question of Joker and its use of violence and a villain as a central character but this feels somewhat off-point. A theme of Joker is taking a very turbulent society and pushing it to its limits. Desperation, fear and anger lead through this film in a way that is hard hitting. It is unfortunately almost a cliché to see a villain with the past that they give the character, but it does work. SPOILERS: Many villains who do messed up things, seem to always have had an unhappy upbringing or even abuse. END OF SPOILERS. The sympathy given to the rather pathetic looking Joker is complicated and powerful. We understand his actions and shed a tear to see his story get worse and worse, feeling almost inevitable.

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The Underside to Society

Matching this is the firm rooted style of Gotham City, much akin to a dark underside of New York. The costume and effects take something silly, like clowns, and take it into dark and gritty. It’s never quite Heath Ledger’s joker but it is like a realistic Cesar Romero. Despite the oddness of this it really fits the style of film which concerns itself with image, representation and the dark underside of society and the need for escapism. Fantasy and reality blend in this film, which produces one of the more powerful and more experimental aspects of the film: what is the story anyway? Running a narrative that works as straight forwardly as you could want it to if taken to be factual. But the more you think, the more you feel the fantasy, dream and down right unreliability of the narrator – who happens to be The Joker. This manages to play with the question of backstory for The Joker rather effectively. Is this even a back story at all?

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An effective piece of storytelling and cinema, Joker certainly is. Minor points arise in nitpicks like: glorification of violence – well, its decidedly more real and pathetic here; and The Joker himself as a pathetic man – it creates sympathy but he could be robbed of his power by being so pathetic. As such Joker is one of the more powerful films to come out this year. It’s effective storytelling and complex themes makes it a mature hit. This was always meant to be a standalone film and not to work into any the other existing Batman films, but this just feels like a shame. Joker builds itself into a powerful place for a now established character suddenly unleashed onto Gotham – exactly what will he do next?

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The failing clown Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles in a world where the poor are downtrodden by the rich with his poor mother. He continually spirals down as he finds things gets harder and he finds out more about himself, leading to desperate acts.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Joker (d. Todd Phillips USA/Canada 2019)


Further Reading

Official Site

Joaquin Phoenix Interview

Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips Interview

Todd Phillips Interview

Cast Interview

Behind the Scenes

Bloopers and Funny Moments

Easter Eggs

Joker and Content Culture

Joker as Standalone

Joker and the Quest for Recognition

Joker Rules for Characterisation

Joker Interpretation

History of the Joker


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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019): ‘Tarantino’s History’ – A Film Review

Lords of Chaos (2018): ‘One Event in a Complex History’ – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


Joker (d. Todd Phillips USA/Canada 2019)

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