Joker Film Review: Harrowing and depressing origin tale

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Brett Cullen, Dante Pereira- Olson,Sharon Washington, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill

Writer- Director: Todd Phillips

Rating: * * * *

The fine line between laughter and tears is clearly evinced in the titular nihilist ( real name Arthur Fleck) who bursts into the kind of manic, uncontrollable laughter that makes you want to cry rather than laugh at him or with him, a gentle, caring common man who devolves into a criminally insane kickstarter of anarchy, chaos and revolution. When we first meet him, Fleck ( Joaquin Phoenix) is a gaunt, single man devoted to an invalid mother (Frances Conroy) who calls him Happy instead of his real name. Which is why he takes up a job as a clown, while despair stalks and doubt gnaws. Fleck doubts his very existence ( "I don't believe in anything.') and asks his therapist (Sharon Washington) " Is it just me or is it every one else?" A journal entry that he reads out to the therapist before he falls through the cracks of indifference and hostility, is a cry from the heart:" I just hope my death makes more sense than my life."

Who would have thought Todd Phillips, maker of execrable comedies like The Hangover, would have helmed a harrowing, depressing origins story like this? Phillips lays the blame squarely on the socio-economic environs for the way things turn out for this tragic misfit. Much in the manner of the great Milton who extracted sympathy for the devil in Paradise Lost, Phillips makes the viewer feel intensely sorry for Fleck, despite failing to capitalise on what could have been a key plot twist. Comedy speaks truth to power, always has; from the Roman satirist Juvenal to the late night talk show hosts in the US of A .Which is why stand-up comedians are censored in countries like ours. And when Fleck tells the truth, no one takes him seriously.

Talk show host Murray Franklin ( Robert de Niro ) actually mocks him while the studio audience hoots. Wealthy industrialist Thomas Wayne ( Brett Cullen) who is running for Mayor, compares the poor to clowns, referencing the clown who shot three of his employees. When the aggrieved rabble goes on the rampage, in clown masks, it is too late for Gotham city which wallows in literal and metaphorical garbage. But the Joker exults, as he retaliates against his oppressors, always signing off, with a dance.

Dance is his true calling and he would have been a very successful dancer indeed had things turned out alright. But they don't, and his eerie, elegant movements are a danse macabre, a dance of death. Just as Sean Connery,Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig instantly come to mind when one thinks of Bond, James Bond; Batman's antagonist will forever be associated with Jack Nicholson, Health Ledger and above all, Joaquin Phoenix whose effortless performance will, doubtless, win an Oscar.