The stark nostalgia of old New York; a time when boisterous crowds interacted face-to-face under clammy brick layered towers, cloaked by punchy block coloured graphics that stretched out across the city. This is the time and place that director Todd Phillips so vividly replicates in his newly released cinematic phenomenon, ‘Joker’. Starring Joacquin Phoenix as the deranged daredevil who holds spite in his grip, we see his character, Arthur Fleck, strut with a superb array of intermittent dance moves, into the cited chaos that takes a hold of 1980’s Gotham City.
You could say that the trademark image of New York in the 1980s is what lent itself to the world Todd Phillips so pristinely depicts. A city that, although has now undergone a digital renovation, once cast a backdrop to gritty flair, a thriving art scene, and a heightened epidemic of crime.
Watching ‘Joker’, you quickly become immersed into a city that is on loose hinges, where one cannot determine the next point of safety nor the shocking climacteric turns that eventually allow the victimised Arthur, who achingly seeks a career in stand up comedy, to both transgress and soar as the maliciously iconic figure of the Joker. But, as you watch this surprisingly intimate tale of a man looking for unrebuked comfort from a world that seems more than uninterested, it is hard to ignore the striking pace at which we see the unravelling of Arthur’s already tattered togetherness. Even in the first few opening shots, which Phillips describes as “a great story-telling device”, we can already see that Fleck is no happier than we could have imagined him to be and, by the time certain truths are slowly brought to the surface, the film is already coming to an unsettling close.
What makes this picture – and the Joker himself – so different, is how the film defies any pre-conceptions which may have been asserted before its actual release. Notably, the assumption that Phillips’ creation was going to be no more than a simulated version of another Joker-related tale. On the contrary, the film presented a subtly stylised yet nuanced account of how the Joker came to be, something which formed consistently with the rate at which the film progressed. This didn’t make the film too slow, as it persistently toyed with the audience’s emotions and left room to question where your own loyalties lie, but it did mean that many were able to remain present during the film, through to its questionable conclusion, and beyond.
Perhaps now with a lifestyle where we become susceptible to easy distractions, having to endure the entire length of a film without an endless amount of action could be seen as something of a task. But watching this film proved its capacity to encapsulate the audience’s attention and strengthen that sense of anticipation all the way through until the credits begin to reel down the screen. It’s a slow and careful re-telling of a character some would assume we know all too much about, that transcends past the mere gore we would rightfully expect to see, allowing both emotion and vulnerability to seep through.
From this instant-classic, a lot of questions are answered and many aren’t, but it’s those dualities that make up the Joker; a character who will act in ways that strike both the eyes and the core, but also in such a manner that we begin to humanise him, notably because of his questionably endearing sense of humour. Ultimately, it is the Joker who ends up with a blood colour-stained smile on his face, with the audience leaving even more stunned, satisfied and fascinated.
Words and Image, Gabriella Persia – @gabriellapersia