A film which stands alone from Batman in a general way, 2019’s Joker still finds itself wrapped in the Dark Knight’s milieu. It’s subtle in its nods to Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation but it firmly sits as a film. Todd Phillips’ Joker is brazen in its open homage to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy but it also has certain moments which echo visual cues from William Friedkin’s 1970s masterworks, The French Connection and The Exorcist. For a film which is effectively a character study, Joker packs an impressive visual punch and credit must go to cinematographer Lawrence Sher, who along with composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, has managed to give Phillips’ film some serious weight.
At the centre of Joker is Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, a powerful performance from an actor who isn’t afraid to go to dark places. Phoenix’s turn riffs on Alan Moore’s seminal 1980s graphic novel, The Killing Joke but it’s very much its own thing. We see a man already at the brink of madness in the films opening frames but that’s only the beginning for what’s in store for this take on one of pop culture’s most iconic villains.
Joker isn’t a film which is enjoyable – it’s tough going and Arthur Fleck isn’t a character who you are meant to like. You can see why there are those who believe this might incite some people to rise up against a world that puts them down, but cinema is a place that (at its best) should offer up challenging and disturbing themes and situations. Joker does this and much more. Is it enjoyable? No. Is it essential viewing? Absolutely.
Budgeted at $55 million, Joker grossed $335.4 million at the US box office and $1 billion worldwide after it was released in 2019.