‘Joker’: equals underwhelming adaptation

Adisa Ozegovic

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The new edition of “Joker” is one of the most anticipated films of the year. Unlike other adaptations, this film serves to display the underlying realities that lead to the creation of one of the most sociopathic and reckless villains within the DC Comics Universe; in particular, director Todd Phillips takes the audience through a series of unfortunate events that triggered the creation of the “Joker.”

Leading actor Joaquin Phoenix does a wonderful job at accurately portraying the descent of psychologically traumatized individual into insanity. This is most clearly seen within the uncontrollable laughing fits that Jack Napier, the Joker’s real identity, bursts into.

Though he is undoubtedly giggling, each fit is uncomfortable to watch, particularly because Phoenix does an excellent job of highlighting the lack of control Napier has over himself. It is clear that it is both frustrating for the character, while, likewise, being equally uncomfortable and odd to the onlookers around him. 

Furthermore, Phoenix’s brilliance, and Phillips’s good eye, is emphasized within the Joker’s first dance. The score is filled with eerie violins, as the Joker, though initially panting out of fear, relaxes into a freestyle, ballet-esque dance. He twists and moves his upper body carefully, as the camera slowly pans around him, and the green light of the bathroom illuminates the overwhelmingly intense scene of self-realization. 

This is such a spectacular scene because it is the first moment within the film that Napier really becomes himself and takes his first step into his own character. It is a brief pause within a film that moves quickly to and from each scene of misfortunate circumstances to view a brief and sudden scene. At the end of it, Napier stands in front of the mirror, clown make-up and all, with his arms outstretched, as if to finally see himself for the first time. 

Despite that excellent moment of cinematography, direction, acting, and sound, the Joker had a number of serious issues throughout the film. The primary problem is related to the unlikely nature of the script. The film is heavily reliant on the fact that everything within Napier’s life must certainly end negatively in order for him to officially take on his diabolical role. 

The first scene sees Napier being beaten up a number of children who stole his sign. Then, he is tormented by his coworkers. Next, his mother emotionally relies on him and manipulates him. Followed by, a failed relationship. 

Even the scene leading up to his dance is hyperfocused on promoting unrealistic, stereotypes of snobbish rich men: they throw fries at a young woman and then, seemingly out of pure enjoyment, decide to jump Napier, who is dressed entirely in clown make-up and is having another uncontrollable fit. Did they also steal candy from a baby beforehand?

The issue here does not necessarily sit with the fact that there are unrealistic scenes in a fictional film. It is specifically that the Joker strives to make a commentary on the role of society in shaping and manipulating an individual, but it does so through overexaggerating all of the negative qualities of society. 

The great thing about Christopher Nolan’s 2008 adaptation The Dark Night and Heath Ledger’s performance is that the Joker, though clearly a reckless and an obviously rejected member of society, is able to deliver clear societal messages that do not hinder on the audience being forced to hate existing characters. 

This adds to the fear that is essential in a film like this: the Joker is able to see inconsistencies and flaws within the existing society, a society that created him. 

Meanwhile in Joker, Joker’s own therapist was awful and failed to aid him. And, in this way, the film fails to deliver on its intended goal, instead of coming off as pretentious and self-piteous. The Joker, by the end, hates his life. Shocking. This, however, adds nothing of value to viewers who cannot relate to such a negative, hostile world.