Descent into madness – How Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker has become a landmark in cinema


“I hope my death makes more cents than my life.” The dark, uneasy nature of the Joker character has haunted generations of superhero fans. From Mark Hamill’s iconic voiced-portrayal of the iconic character, to Heath Ledger’s haunting, cynical portrayal, it has been a role that has been tough to follow. Jared Leto fell victim to immense criticism over his portrayal of the Joker in the 2016 flop Suicide Squad. But alas, a standalone Joker film (directed by Todd Phillips, who did The Hangover Trilogy) was announced earlier last year with Joaquin Phoenix portraying the iconic villain. My hopes were up because Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite actors of all time, having starred in films such as Gladiator (2000), Walk The Line (2005), The Master (2012), Her (2013), Inherent Vice (2014) and You Were Never Really Here (2017). In all of these performances he brought a unique charm, something I can’t really put into words. But to me he was the perfect person to portray such an enigmatic and fully crazy character. In short, this performance was absolutely mind-blowing and I came out of it stunned.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a low-life party clown who lives in poverty-ridden Gotham City with his mother and a dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. He has a condition where he laughs uncontrollably, sometimes in inappropriate settings, and relies heavily on meditation, also attending a therapist. Getting beat up, made fun of, called a clown or a creep, his self-esteem and disillusionment with the society around him caused gradually makes him go more and more insane. Joaquin Phoenix was able to perfectly capture the insecurities and eccentricities of a mentally ill person, in a city that feels cold and unsettling in every single way. From the dark settings of the film to the lonely, isolating and chilling feel throughout, this film is dark and psychologically unsettling. Based on the themes and occurrences in this movie, two Scorsese films come to mind. Taxi Driver (1976) and The King Of Comedy (1983). Both films star Robert De Niro, who also happens to portray Murray Franklin, a talk show host in Joker. The idolization of comedians and celebrities in general, mixed with this apocalyptic attitude towards the world makes for a fascinating concept already explored in film, but Joker brings something new. With Hildur Guðnadóttir’s incredibly poignant and emotive score (she composed music for Chernobyl (2019)), the film sounds raw and authentic, just as it feels.

There are moments in the film that completely rattled me emotionally, such as him killing his mother (portrayed by Frances Conroy), as well as the eerie scene where he was sitting in Sophie Dumond’s (portrayed by Zazie Beets) living room in the dark. Moments like these, and the intensity of those moments made the film great to me. At times, the story felt a bit chopped up, there wasn’t as much fluidity in the storyline as I had expected, which is really my only criticism of the film. But at the end of the day, that drawback is overshadowed by Joaquin’s mesmeric and flawless performance. The cinematography was amazing, and so was the colour palette throughout. The shades of red and green was aesthetically pleasing. But overall, it was a genuinely breathtaking performance from an actor at the peak of his career. I couldn’t be happier for Joaquin Phoenix, who’s performance is arguably the best of his illustrious career so far.

Watch the trailer to Joker below and please go watch this film!

Hey everyone, thanks for stopping by. I run In Search Of Media with the aim of giving a platform to independent beatmakers, rappers and talented musicians. I also hope to make this a home for music discovery, interesting film analysis, exhibition reviews and other interesting content for all of you guys to dive in to. I hope to start a podcast and documentary-style project soon. If you're looking to be a part of this creative project, please go to the contact page and drop me an email, or connect via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I also write for 'Music Is My Sanctuary.' Thanks 🙏

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