Updated: Nov 26, 2019
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
My love affair with this movie pretty much began right from the opening scene.
As Arthur lay beaten on the sodden streets of Gotham City, the camera slowly panned out, until right before my eyes, I was greeted by a sight that took me right back to one of the most precious moments of my life.
I was 14 years old when I first saw AKIRA, the movie that not only defined anime, but became a cultural centerpiece of film and art as a whole. As soon as that bold red title faded onto the screen, I knew I was in for something spectacular. Somehow I knew from that very moment that this would be the greatest piece of media I had ever experienced.
Fast forward 8 years. I'm 22 years old, pushing 23, sitting in a Korean cinema, about to watch the new DC character piece, 'JOKER'.
That title flashes up just the same as AKIRA did. Bold, pallid yellow, visually arresting. I get that feeling again, that what I'm about to see will be a masterpiece.
While AKIRA still holds the top spot, and perhaps forever will, JOKER is one of the finest movies I have ever seen. At the end of it, I was speechless.
Joaquin Phoenix (one of my favorite actors of all time) provides a performance here that you just can't tear your eyes away from. His take on the laugh is guttural and painful, you feel the wheezing and choking, the relief when he can finally calm himself down and stop. His journey is painful, raw, a domino effect of one terrible event after another, largely caused by the other people in his life.
Arthur is a sympathetic character. Does that justify the cruel actions he ends up taking? No. However, this development humanizes him, and I think this is so important. I don't believe any person is truly, wholly 'evil'. A baby is not born malevolent, we start our lives as innocents, but may grow into something otherwise.
The message I take from JOKER is the importance of showing kindness to people. Arthur spares Gary because he was respectful towards him at his work. Perhaps he would have never been sent down such a dark path if others had also treated him the same way.
Again, it doesn't justify anything, and of course, Arthur himself has many complicated facets to his character. However, it's an important take on villainous characters, both within fiction and in reality. If we strive to make the world a better place, to treat others with care and understanding, then perhaps these 'origin stories' won't have to happen.
Within a fictional context though, I sure am glad we received this one. I've seen this movie 4 times since its release, and may even go again, that's how compelling I find it to be. I hope that we can see more intimate character explorations from DC in the future too.
Certainly, I won't forget this one.