‘Joker’ uncovers uncomfortable realities

Autumn Sorrentino

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the 2019 film “Joker.”

With a whopping $93 million dollars in box office revenue during its opening weekend, a 9.3/10 review from IMDb and seven nominations worldwide, the 2019 “Joker” film has gotten its fair share of publicity. However, is it worth all the hype?



The film follows Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and his life in Gotham City. Fleck is immediately recognized as mentally ill, with a condition that causes him to hysterically and uncontrollably laugh at random, inopportune times that often betray what he is truly feeling. Further on in the movie, we discover that Fleck has also dealt with abuse, depression and psychosis, causing the audience to question what is real and what isn’t. 

Throughout the film, Fleck is isolated and harassed by his peers, implying that these experiences, and his hardships being at the poverty line, are what make him into what he is. Fleck eventually turns to murder to find salvation in the eyes of the city, starting a movement to “kill the rich” and inspiring those in the working class.

“Joker” is an unnerving commentary on mental illness and the class system, eerily mirroring today’s world.”

Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is masterful; disheveled, unstable and downright scary, Phoenix leaves no detail out. Displaying incredibly complex, often nonsensical emotions, Phoenix makes the confusing clear through his phenomenal understanding of Fleck’s character.

Scenes often play with a light and dark dynamic, showing Fleck’s constantly conflicting emotions. The costumes, especially the Joker’s makeup, make this film unique compared to its predecessors, playing with juxtaposing colors in a way that both shocks and intimidates viewers.

Fleck, by the end of the film, is praised for his actions. Perhaps in the most memorable scene, Phoenix stands above an angry mob, smearing his own blood onto his mouth to create his infamous smile. The crowd below cheers him on, acting as violent reactionaries while sporting their own clown masks in support. 

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t truly condemn Fleck’s actions, but rather justifies his violent outbursts with his tragic past and further portrays his movement as necessary to the story’s arc. Perhaps one of the most divisive films of the year, ‘Joker’ glorifies killing in that it favors mental illness without delving into the underlying issues that cause it. 

The movie has raised some concerns, though, and rightfully so. Admittedly, when I heard the age-old argument that “violent movies create violent people,” I ignored it. But, with the 2012 Aurora shooting during “The Dark Knight,” several theaters refused to show the movie: including the original theater of the crime. And, by the time I left, I think they made a good decision.

“Joker” is an unnerving commentary on mental illness and the class system, eerily mirroring today’s world. With deeply political undertones and surprising plot twists, the movie is well-deserving of its awards, despite the criticisms it has been receiving.

“Joker” disturbs in all the right ways. With a convincing protagonist and an intriguing plot, this movie will not disappoint. Squeamish or epileptic viewers should be advised.


Autumn Sorrentino can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @ItsNotTarantino