Film Review: A painted face hides a bitter truth in the ‘Joker’

Todd Phillips’ dark work ‘Joker’ clinched the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 10 September 2019

Film Review: A painted face hides a bitter truth in the ‘Joker’

VENICE: Todd Phillips’ dark work “Joker” proved to be the darling of the jury and clinched the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Not that the movie was undeserving, but turning a clown into a killer could be seen as going against the very grain of what all of us have come to love. We have always adored a joker, and have laughed with him, have we not?

But Phillips’ Joker, played with admirable excellence by Joaquin Phoenix (who won the 2017 Cannes best actor award for “You Were Never Really Here”), is more a villain than a comedian. Joker, aka Arthur Fleck, is given a twist by writers Phillips and Scott Silver. They were heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese’s characters (especially Robert De Niro’s in “Taxi Driver”) and DC Comics’ “Batman: The Killing Joke.” 

Fleck is mentally ill, a perpetual loser, so even in his most hideously violent moments, we cannot help but feel a sense of remorse for a man battered by an unfeeling society. Early on, he is seen standing outside a store with a placard that reads: “Everything Must Go.” Some boisterous teenagers snatch the placard from him, and when he protests, they beat him mercilessly.

Fleck tries to turn the saddest, most painful moments into a joke with a funny crackle of laughter (which Phoenix had to practice really hard to get), hoping to get into a normal state. But the laughter often sounds like a sob, a cry for help. Then there is his mother, and we are reminded of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterly “Psycho.” 

Impressively mounted, “Joker” has been written and edited to evoke a feeling of compassion for one reduced to such a pitiable state by the community, including his own mother. And Phoenix, who lost weight for the role, with cheeks sunken and eyes dropping in distress, literally hypnotizes us with his weird expressions and strange mannerisms, bringing to the fore his unimaginable sorrow. It is a pity that he did not bag the best actor award at Venice.


What We Are Reading Today: Floating Coast  by Bathsheba Demuth

Updated 16 September 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Floating Coast  by Bathsheba Demuth

Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: Through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.

The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape, according to a review published on goodreads.com.

The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans — the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia — before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. 

Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?