Review: "Joker" is no laughing matter

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

"Joker" is a long and painful journey through mental illness to insanity. 

By Savannah Simmons, Opinion Editor

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This latest version of “Joker” is not a movie about an evil man, maniacally laughing his way through the streets, stirring trouble and toying with Batman but a drawn-out film following one character’s evolution from a frightened, intimidated soul to an insanely violent person. 

Throughout the film Joaquin Phoenix, playing Arthur Fleck, does an outstanding job of making viewers feel for his character. Fleck takes the audience on an emotional ride, through his sadness, anger and pain, as coworkers and passersby treat him like a zero.

Viewers watch the whole movie feeling empathetic for this extremely ill man facing real world problems such as mental illness, bullying and poverty because Fleck gives the audience something to connect with. It is a reflection of experiences happening around the world.

Phoenix and the cast turn in strong performances and the set design beautifully depicts 70s New York. However, the story falls flat, as the film takes far too long for Fleck to become the Joker. For most of the two-hour film, Fleck is a normal guy, not becoming or assuming the role of Joker until the final moments of the film.

Fleck’s ramp up to his Joker persona is so slow and drawn out that it becomes exhausting to watch this poor man get beat up on and treated like garbage. The audience needs less Fleck and more Joker. 

However, the first time the audience catches a glimpse of Joker standing up for himself during a subway shooting, he takes things too far and viewers know this character has cracked. Although people should have the right to stand up for themselves, capital punishment is not what was deserved but Fleck decided he would be the judge and ultimately, the executioner. In turn, the movie’s long-winding effort to feel sorry for Fleck, immediately turns into repulsion for the Joker.

Viewers are forced to empathize with Fleck as he continues to be ridiculed, lose his job and find out the disturbing secrets of his childhood and mother. All of these things make Fleck believe he has the right to do what he has done and play the dangerous role of giving him an excuse for his horrific actions.  

The audience also discovers Fleck is an unreliable narrator when scenes compare what played in his head with what initially played out on the screen. It all could have been orchestrated for viewers to be on his side and think what he did was just what he came to because of everything that happened to him in his life and throughout the film. 

A character must have some kind of motive behind their madness and they are not going to do everything a logical way, it is a movie at the end of the day. But when most of these horrible acts are taking place, viewers know this character as Arthur Fleck, not Joker, and have been watching him as this battered human for so long that it is hard to remember that this is a comic book villain. 

The story is too real and relatable, especially in a time where mass killings and gun violence is extremely relevant in today's world. According to, there have been 337 mass shootings as of October 2019. It would be naive to assume that at least one person in the theatre watching did not feel seen when watching Arthur Fleck’s life snowball from a meek loner to a person of cult power.