Try to “Put on a Happy Face” When Going Into the Theatre

Morgan Reed, Head Chief/Editor

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Despite the seemingly constant arrival of new superhero movies and comic book adaptations, it was unclear whether “Joker” would make an impact in the already full genre. However, the film has left audiences shaken and surprised.

Todd Phillp’s most recent movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a.k.a Joker, has dominated at the box office, rounding off its first two weeks making 93.5 million dollars. However, audiences should not walk into “Joker” with expectations to see another classic comic book antagonist backstory film.

The film does not only center around the notorious DC Comics villain, but more profoundly around the mental state of Joker. In addition to bringing a twist to the origins of Batman’s arch nemesis, the film largely acknowledges and sheds light on the impact untreated, or ignored, mental illness can have on a person, which gives the film a larger level of maturity than other comic book movies have before.

The intensity of how Phoenix portrays not a cartoon character, but a human being who’s society has let him down, is breathtaking. The beauty of this Joker movie in particular is that it is truly a stand alone piece. One doesn’t have to know the story of Batman and Joker and therefore, the piece does not have to be weighed down by the same standards as other comic book movies. Unrealistic action scenes weren’t a must have, nor were they necessary to make an impact, and thankfully, the stereotypical plot in which the “good guy” wins wasn’t even considered.

The movie begins with Arthur Fleck applying clown makeup to his eyes and lips in the dressing room of Ha Ha’s, where he is hired out as a party clown. However, the scene soon becomes much more as Fleck sticks his fingers in his mouth and almost violently forces himself to smile. The action itself becomes so intense that he sheds a single tear, stained by the blue paint around his eyes. This pivotal scene not only immediately lets the audience know that they are in for a surprise if they were hoping for another Batman movie, but it also gives an insight into how unstable Fleck truly is.

Fleck is a middle aged man living with and taking care of his elderly mother in Gotham City. He is being treated for mental health issues and has a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably, whether the laughter matches his emotions or not. Although the film does not ever specify the name of the condition, it follows very closely to Pseudobulbar Affect, a condition characterized by uncontrollable laughing or crying and appears in people with neurological conditions or traumatic brain injuries. This is later confirmed when it is revealed to readers that Fleck was abused actively by his mother’s boyfriend when he was young.

Fleck’s laugh, however, is not one that has a tendency to be contagious by the audience. Rather it is eerie to watch, makes the audience uncomfortable, and most often, brings Arthur to tears. This should not be ignored, for the difficulty on Phoenix’s part for finding this perfect Joker laugh was intensive. It’s difficult to do a fake laugh for so much of the movie, and is important that it’s acknowledged. Throughout the movie, there are different ways Phoenix chooses to portray his “contagious” laughter. It is a metaphor for Fleck’s slowly deteriorating and increasingly dangerous state of mind, as well as shows the different emotions that Arthur is feeling during that scene. The laugh truly helps set the tone for both the movie and the deeper messages.

His mother, Penny, who is also suffering from untreated mental illnesses, calls Fleck “Happy” as a nickname, and in a few accounts talks about how happy he was as a child. However, Fleck wasn’t happy, as previously mentioned, he was constantly being abused by his mother’s boyfriend and ignored by Penny herself. Fleck seems to have taken this nickname to heart and convinces himself that even if he’s just pretending to be happy, the world will and should eventually catch up and pretend to be happy as well. All of this makes his laugh, which portrays an emotion that he does not feel nor ever has, not only nod to the classic Joker’s laugh, but makes it all the more painful and uncomfortable for viewers to hear, forcing them to better understand the pain he feels.

His laugh gets him into trouble often. Most often, in inappropriate situations he begins to laugh, causing him to get jumped and beaten several times throughout the film. His condition also has made it hard for him to connect with people. In his desperation, and under his mother’s influence, he is convinced that he is supposed to be a standup comedian. However, due to his laugh and social awkwardness, he is ridiculed and made fun of on live television. After seeing this, he becomes more self-conscious, driving him further down the path of madness.

His yearning for a connection go so far as to cause him to strongly hallucinate multiple times about having a girlfriend throughout the movie as well, making it difficult for audience members to tell the difference between real and not real.

In his desperation to be noticed by a society that has ignored him and his so-called talents, Fleck becomes crazier and more unstable. When secrets about his mother’s mental illness, abuse, and fantasies are added to the list, along with him finding out about why he is the way he is mentally, he dives off the deep end head first.

He stops taking his medication, resulting in him doing actions that leave goosebumps and squiminess in the audience.

Only six people are killed throughout the movie, most of which aren’t as violent as compared to other movie deaths. It is obvious very early on that all of the people that are killed are ones who he believes have wronged him. He’s not just killing for the gun of it. Eventually, these killings and his laugh will be the things that will get him noticed.
By the end, audiences are left in both shock and admiration by the way the movie was put together.

Todd Phillips made sure the script with Joker made audiences leave with mixed feelings of both exasperation and confusion over Joker’s hallucinations, killings, and overall dizziness to prove himself. The point of the film was to bring people into the world of the Joker and make them view the Joker’s life first-hand. Phillip’s chose not to only twist the villain, but twist the person underneath as well. The subtle characterization of Phoenix’s movements and actions added to the character, making it easier for the audience to pity Arthur, as well as make it much easier for one to question whether the Joker was really the bad guy or not.

Concluding with a revolution in Gotham, Fleck is noticed, igniting a revolution against society, as well as lighting the match for future villainous Joker portrayed in the DC Comics. There’s even something for those die-hard Batman fans. The Waynes are hinted through-out the film, bringing extra layers into the already complex story.

Joker is truly a film that brings insanity and revelation into focus, leaving one to wonder if Joker is really to blame for his crimes, or if the blame should be directed to society and its people.