Joker: Why so serious?


With a groundbreaking performance by Joaquin Phoenix, Joker explores dark themes unlike any other DC comic series. Joker appeared in theaters on October 4, 2019.

Makayla Bryant, Publishing Editor

Dark and riveting, Joker focuses on the DC comic book’s infamous villain Joker (Joaquin Phoenix), and tells of his grim and compelling origins that led to his journey of self destruction. Set in 1981, clown-for-hire Arthur Fleck has one dream: to be a stand-up comedian. Though Arthur is mentally ill and barely coping with medication and court order therapy, these therapies don’t offer the comfort he’s searching for. While living at home with his sick mother Penny (Frances Conroy), Arthur is encouraged to bring laughter to all kinds of people, even though he isn’t particularly funny. He is socially awkward and his erratic behavior tends to scare people away, making him feel completely alone. While working as a sign-twirler and dressed as a clown, Arthur is beaten up by a handful of random kids who steal his sign and break it over his head. His boss doesn’t believe Arthur’s story and demands he pay for the missing sign. As the first of many injustices are brought upon Arthur throughout the film, the audience begins to feel sympathy for him until it’s clear that Arthur isn’t paranoid, but the world really is out to get him. He then goes down a dark path, leading to extremely violent and murderous actions that carry on throughout the remainder of the film. 

During the exploration of Arthur Fleck’s brutal past and his mental instability, it is unclear how much of Joker was made up inside his mind and what really happened. This altered perception places the audience inside Arthur’s mind and prevents them from deciphering reality from fantasy, confused in the wake of a world seemingly gone mad… or not. Everything about the storytelling and portrayal of the Joker is designed to be riveting, gruesome, and dark in order to persuade the audience to adopt Arthur’s “victim” point of view. Joaquin Phoenix’s enthralling performance shows Joker’s once optimistic outlook on the future, now spiraling down into a world of chaos.  

Through the decades, there have been multiple different portrayals of Joker, with different versions being played by Heath Ledger, Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto, and today’s Joaquin Phoenix, each having captivated the essence of Joker in their own way. Each version has, in some way or form, put themselves in the mind and hysteria that is the Joker’s character in order to accurately render the insanity of the infamous villain, with a few feeling the mental and physical effects of such a complicated character. Throughout the era of Joker’s, one of the most honest things about the villain is the tension between the ugly and unfair reality of the world and finding a means to do something about it.