Warner Bros. new Joker movie hits the big screen this week, featuring Joaquin Phoenix’s naturally menacing face as the DC comic star, and the ideal depiction of his incredulously villainous charisma.
Just like former performances from Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Batman, Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, and Jared Leto in Suicide Squad – the new and highly anticipated movie is set to feature just as many tears and laughs, only from a far more emotionally-gripping angle compared to its award-winning counterparts.
Why So Serious?
Unlike the earlier Joker editions, which contained plenty of romance, violence, explosions and action-packed scenes – the teaser and final trailers for the upcoming movie (which received standing ovations from critics at the Venice Film Festival), focuses more on the struggling background of a young man called Arthur Fleck. A character broken by the torment and pressure of looking after his sick mum (Frances Conroy), all while he grapples with his own mental health challenges and struggles.
Aside from his attempts to pursue a career in comedy on the sidelines, that’s pretty much all we know about the character so far.
The plot is set in the traditions of Gotham, 1981, where the city looks tired, trash-filled and edgy. There’s no black-winged vigilante roaming the streets, no young Bruce Wayne mourning the death of his hapless parents, no sexy lady in a cat suit, or frat boy robin lurking under the hero’s cape – the storyline appears to be much more raw and earnest than that.
Fleck is a Lost Cause
Key moments in the trailers show many different angles to the despairing Mr. Fleck, and the hurdles of humiliation he encounters daily; from cringe-worthy stand-up shows to waving guns around in hospitals for dying kids to spinning “closing down sale” signs for a store and getting the living crap beaten out of him.
Yet none of these mishaps or traumas appears to be enough to wipe that red-smeared grin off his face, stop his uncontrollable outbursts of laughter, or cure his eventual taste for the blood of Gotham’s reprobates.
We know that the Joker is far from any kind of “hero” in this story, but somewhere along the lines he is going to capture an audience who observe him as something similar – like a sinister Robin Hood demagogue. So we’re very excited to see how it all unfolds…
Interestingly, the director of the movie, Todd Phillips has always been fascinated with the Joker character and allegedly became self-inspired to make the movie after seeing the ‘Juggernaut’ on a billboard.
Knowing full well he would be unable to compete with Marvel’s unsullied success, he decided to go down a different route of typical, over-animated superheroes with cheesy catchlines, and instead draw attention to the human aspects of comic book characters that are rarely ever talked about.
Phillips, who is best known for more light-hearted movies like The Hangover, War Dogs and Road Trip initially approached the studio with a proposal for a series of standalone films, which would not create any discord between the other movies in any way.
“It’s just another interpretation, like people do interpretations of Macbeth,” he said.
Getting into Character
Where Phoenix was concerned, Phillips stated that the whole Joker role really was designed for him. The production team were pushing to enroll Leonardo DiCaprio before the screenplay was written, but Phillips thought Joaquin was by far the best candidate to take on the villain’s dark and perturbing temperament.
According to the New York Times, Phoenix made the director come to his house so he could audition for the role before agreeing to star in the movie. Phillips also said he was bombarded with questions before finally receiving the “yes” he was hoping for.
In order to meet the visual feel of the Joker character, Joaquin was asked to slim down his weight considerably. The star had done this numerous times before for other roles, but was heavily reluctant to do it again.
Despite his initial resistance, he still ended up dropping the scales by 56Ibs to adopt the Joker’s gaunt and spindly frame.
Behind the Scenes
Phoenix allegedly walked off the set several times during filming, with fellow co-stars believing his sudden loss of composure was something to do with their own actions.
“In the middle of the scene, he’ll just walk away and walk out,” Phillips said, though he clarified that these incidents were purely down to the actor’s own frustration with himself.
Robert De Niro plays the late-night talk show host (Murray Franklin) in the movie and said in an interview how he’s always had a fond admiration for Joaquin and his movie performances. He said how he never saw this chaotic side of him during production, but understands the pressures of playing a sadistic persona – after many years of playing similar roles which depict lonely, disturbed characters himself.
We Can Only Anticipate the Rest
Just like how Stanley Kubrick drove his cast to the parameters of their own insanity in the cult classic “The Shining”, Phillips has clearly been pushing his own team to the limit.
If he wants to ensure audiences across the globe envision the characters in the way he does for this movie, he’s going to need to get under people’s skin. And by the sounds of it, he’s done that already.
Joker is released on October 4.