No Laughing Matter: “Joker” Is Gritty and Refreshing But Not What Many Fans May Want

Aubrey Brumblow

Image credit to DC Comics.

What comic book villain is more iconic than Batman’s Joker? Throughout countless portrayals from such actors as Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Jared Leto, The Joker has always been the nemesis of Batman. 

This time, however, it’s his movie. Featuring a character with such a long and rich history in comics, TV and cinema, fans undoubtedly have big expectations.

That’s one reason why, although a riveting movie, “Joker” won’t be what many fans want from this iconic figure.

The Movie

Meet Arthur Fleck, a man on seven different medications who essentially devotes his life to taking care of his ailing mother and working as a clown to keep their squalid apartment. He has an unusual condition: he has fits of uncontrollable laughter that don’t match his feelings.

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His mother says he was put on this Earth to spread joy, but watching Arthur’s eyes when he laughs is just as painful as watching somebody wracked with body-shaking sobs.

Then Arthur’s life falls apart in every way imaginable, and his actions will make him notorious to all of Gotham.

The Good 

Painful. Uncomfortable. Disturbing. That’s this standalone origin movie—and that is the point. It intends to unsettle you. The suspense does not let up from the first scene–a scene so quiet, tense and focused on Arthur forcibly trying to smile.

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Every moment, as Arthur’s pained life spirals further downward, as secrets and lies are exposed, as the plot twists and turns, you are waiting for Arthur to snap.

You are waiting for the chaos.

Joaquin Phoenix absolutely stuns in this gritty portrayal. The audience will be in pain with Arthur because Phoenix holds such emotion in his eyes and has a beyond magnetic performance.

From the moment the movie begins, you’ll believe he is Arthur.

This gritty, character-driven villain’s story is a refreshing departure from the multitude of superhero films that have grown formulaic. 

The Not-So-Good

This movie is a dark and serious character study that brings a larger-than-life villain down to human level: the mad and cackling Joker becomes a mentally ill man who could be anybody we pass on the street. 

This movie asks you, how does an ordinary person become a villainous legend like the Joker?

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What this movie does not do, however, is cater to the masses. This is not Jared Leto’s young and wild gangster-like Joker. And this is not Heath Ledger’s sarcastic, disturbed and terroristic Joker.

This movie is more Arthur, not Joker. It’s a realistic and depressed man who happens to be in a setting called Gotham.

With the majority of the movie comprised of ordinary moments rendered tense, this movie might not be ideal for those wanting an action movie—or a movie with an easy answer.


See it for the character study and without any expectations of crazy hi-jinks, explosive fight scenes or actual comedy.

8.5 / 10 stars.

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