Movie Review: Phoenix Leads his One Man Show to Perfection

Lahore (9th Oct, 2019): Hollywood film, Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the lead, manages to startle and woo audiences simultaneously. 

With the recent release of one DC Comic’s most iconic villain, the Joker, cinema-goers find themselves being pulled towards the pain and suffering of the lonely man turned villain as his wonderfully crafted origin story unfolds but, what are the markers of a good play or movie?

According to Greek philosopher Aristotle a well-executed play consists of six elements which include:

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Plot: The content is driven by a story that takes the audience on a journey engaging their attention throughout. The dramatist is able to build a relationship between the characters and the audience by properly executing the plot.

Character: This is the second most important tool which can make and/or break a play. The underlying aim in the development of a character is to convey the moral purpose associated with the content. Whether the character identifies as good or evil, or even if he/she possesses the moral compass to be able to differentiate between wrong or right as an essential part of existence. If the characters come off as half-baked ideas, the audience will lose interest irrespective of a gripping plot. The idea being that not all central characters have to be a “hero” or a fairy-tale ideal of the perfect person which needs to be conveyed in harmony with the plot.

Thought: The idea being that central theme is aligned with the content that the dramatist wishes to portray, that there exists clarity in execution of the central concept or idea behind the play. If you change gears in the middle of the play/movie it is direct and immediate suicide of your creative juices. For instance, Disney’s Aladdin highlights the life of a “street rat” with a heart of gold. The image they present at the beginning of the movie stays the same. Aladdin may be a poor boy who steals for a living but, he is also a man of substance who would not stand in silence while others are wrongly isolated and/or punished. The same idea has carried through in Disney’s latest installment of the family friendly adaptation as well.

Diction: This element is important because it serves to solidify the execution of the central idea by means of play of language. How effectively you paint the expression of meanings in the words and body language for silence has to speak louder than words.

Song: This is perhaps one of the most important elements in a play/movie. Intertwined with diction, the kind of music or songs incorporated in a movie help build the mood, and develops on the silent expression simultaneously.

Spectacle: This is by far the most artistic element; however, it serves the purpose of gluing together the other elements. This is significant in execution because it helps dazzle the audiences’ memory. The overall impact of the play/movie, how you made the audience suddenly becomes the most vital part in keeping their memories of the experience alive. If you make the audience think over, reminisce and talk about your creative endeavour then you will have won half the battle.

While, the progression in theatre and modern day films is far different from the time when Aristotle was alive, the six elements of a play are not entirely faded out either. Aristotle’s elements very much apply to the physical arts including modern day movies. This is where Warner Bros. recently released Joker comes in. Although it has been labelled as “bleak, violent and powerful” by common sense media, the movie has a lot to offer. With thematic concerns such as: victim mentality, representation, sense of belonging vs. displacement, lack of concrete identity, isolation or sense of being the other, sqewed perceptions manipulated by the mental deficiencies, mental illness, mob mentality, crime, good vs. evil, childhood trauma, the need to establish kindness and compassion, lack of empathy, abuse as a physical entity, running parallel with the idea of caging a bird that fights its way out of the restraints, as well as the idea of making a criminal out of a lonely man battling his demons et cetera.

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The movie excels as perhaps one of Joaquin Phoenix’s best performances till date. The first impression as the movie comes to a close is that of Phoenix successfully manoeuvring his way through his one man show that brilliantly captivates the audiences. Todd Phillips the director behind this thought-provoking origin story merges the gory with the thrillingly poignant, aims for the theatrical and yet almost out of reach approach throughout – thereby, providing the audience with a healthy serving, of the stupendous depiction of a mad man, cloaked as a villain in the making. Using his laughter as an anomaly and an excuse, Arthur Fleck is presented as first caged bird who towards the end takes on the form of a carnivorous hunter, the Joker.

Perhaps the most resonating element in the movie is the fact as rightfully pointed out by Owen Gleiberman, the film unravels a “hypnotically perverse, ghoulishly gripping urban-nightmare” where Arthur Fleck played by Joaquin Phoenix is the “loser-freak” who turns into one of Batman’s greatest nemesis, and yet, is an example for the world – not as some grandiose villain rather as a “pathetic specimen of human damage”. Through his depiction of the character, Phoenix has beautifully reminded the audiences of our fatal flaw – lack of empathy. Perhaps, the riots and fires that eventually breakout in the movie-verse and consequently in the DC verse would not have happened, if someone had bothered to show this twisted, isolated boy even a drop of human kindness and compassion because at the end of the day, Arthur Fleck comes off as a disturbed mind who ironically possesses a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.

Todd Phillips’ vision behind Arthur Fleck is indeed disguised as somewhat of a messiah for the poor, the underprivileged, the constantly beaten down, and largely unheard elements of society who eventually rise up against their own community under the pretence of being criminals – a fact that so-called civilized society cannot digest, and while, this perspective holds true in the DC universe of the comic books, such disintegration should not be allowed. People like Arthur Fleck aka Joker should never be allowed to commit a crime as grave as murder, in hopes of ridding society of its evils only to become what he essentially stands against because two wrongs can never make a right!

Moreover, as the movie plays the role of poison and its cure simultaneously, it is rightfully restricted as an “Adults only” movie not because there might be underlined vulgarity but because the depiction of violence may be misleading and burdening on the minds of the youth. The inevitable disintegration of Arthur Fleck as the Joker is disheartening because his deterioration could have been dealt with easily. He is an example of the isolated, victimized, and unheard sects of society who inevitably and ultimately always rise up against its oppressor/suppressor.

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Under the brilliant direction of Todd Phillips, the marvellous cast that includes: Joaquin Phoenix [Arthur Fleck/Joker], Robert De Niro [talk show host, Murray Franklin], Frances Conroy [mother, Penny Fleck], Zazie Beetz [as neighbour, Sophie Dumond], Brett Cullen [Thomas Wayne], Dante Pereira-Olson [Bruce Wayne], and Sharon Washington [as therapist], respectively.  The overall cinematography is not an experience to be missed. If you have yet to watch the movie, head on over to your nearest cinema so you can get first-hand experience of the unravelling of DC’s villain absolute genius, Joker.

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