REVIEW — “Joker” (2019): Is It Worth The Controversy?

By now you’ve probably seen multiple iterations of Joker, the well-known clown prince of crime and nemesis of Batman. Over the decades, he has been depicted on screen by a long line of actors; from Cesar Romero in 1966 to, more recently, the likes of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto. This time, the role has been handed to three-time Academy Award-nominee Joaquin Phoenix who is donning the terrifyingly iconic white clown makeup, blood-red smile, and green-dyed hair. 

“Joker” (2019), which was directed by Academy Award-nominated writer Todd Phillips and produced by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures, is set in 1981. The film looks at the life of mentally-ill, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who is trying to make his way through life while living with and caring for his ailing mother. After one night of being pushed too far by the cruel society around him, Fleck finds himself in a sea of troubles that ultimately brings about his fall into madness while the citizens of Gotham City can only watch as a man disregarded by society becomes the man known as Joker. 

Ever since the “Joker” teaser trailer debuted in April, 2019, the film has been subject to controversy with some thinking the film looks like a masterpiece and others believing that it might cause chaos and provoke a movement of people inspired to mirror the events that occur in the film. For starters, the presumptions that “Joker” was going to be an absolutely fantastic film were well-deserved. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips has crafted a totally plausible and heartbreaking story that actually makes you feel for Joker as he commits his horrific crimes. As for the concerns regarding its negative influence, the film does not condone violence, but it does depict it in such a way that it warns the audience that if we don’t watch out and treat the people around us with dignity, we could cause one person to become similar to Joker. Beyond its themes, “Joker” is a much more clever film than it has any right to be. Not many would assume a comic-book property to be so philosophical and dramatic, but the cast and crew exceed all possible expectations. Phillips’ and writer Scott Silver’s script has all sorts of unexpected and original twists that give the film an overall fresh and unique feel. 

The acting in “Joker” is entirely awards-worthy. Joaquin Phoenix delivers the performance of a lifetime. Committed to the role, he lost roughly 52 pounds in order to authentically portray the Joker. To say he is good is an understatement in every respect. The supporting cast, which includes Robert De Niro (as Murray Franklin), Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumond), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), and Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne) are all excellent in their respective parts, as well. 

While “Joker” is a superb film, there are a number of issues to be brought up. Above all else, it is key to know that this film is not for everyone; “Joker” is a tragedy first and foremost. Todd Phillips’ film is not trying to depict a pretty picture of the world, but instead warn the viewers of the violent and chaotic world that we could create. Also, there is a fair bit of violence and blood in the film. The movie clearly takes inspiration from Martin Scorsese, specifically from his films “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The King Of Comedy” (1982), a fact the writers have admitted to in interviews. Although there are times where you feel like you have seen this film before, the entire second and third acts are totally able to stand on their own as Todd Phillips truly tells a whole new story. 

Both before and after its release on October 4, 2019, “Joker” gained a considerable amount of controversy, with multiple news and police groups fearing that this film poses a real danger to society. In concern to these worries surrounding the movie, Junior Brody Pontarelli ‘21 said, “I think it’s fair. There’s a lot of crazy people in this country. It doesn’t hurt to have cops in the movie theater.” This claim that “Joker” will ultimately cause more harm than good definitely seems worthy of concern as there is no telling what one person might do. 

Before going to see the movie, Juniors Luke Roshkow ‘21 and Santiago Zubillaga ‘21 had thoughts of their own to say about the film. Roshkow stated, “The trailers have looked pretty solid. It’s good to take a character that, for decades, has been portrayed as a psychopath, and learn why he is like that.” Adding onto that, Santiago Zubillaga ‘21 remarked, “I am pretty excited about this film, since it is the first major Joker film that is completely centered around the Joker as the main character. Considering the fact that many comic book films like Joker (2019) are moving in an R-Rated direction, Joaquin Phoenix depicts the most violent version of the Joker we’ve seen. I think the film will be much less like a traditional comic book movie and more like a deeply psychological character development story.” After watching the film, Zach Bernstein ‘21 said that “Joker” was “extremely well done. The movie really does a lot to develop the characters and understand their motives and desires. In addition, the anticipation of what was to come next from scene to scene kept me on the edge of my seat.”


Following its release, “Joker” has received both mixed and positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes currently gives it a “Certified Fresh” at 69% with 390 reviews from critics. The audience score meanwhile has been extremely positive with the film getting a 92% from over 10,000 general moviegoers. I personally consider the film astounding and a perfect origin story for a character that, in prior incarnations, is a man who lives only to cause chaos. That does not mean what came before Phoenix’s rendition isn’t impressive and enjoyable, but, in this iteration, Phoenix adds another layer to a character that ultimately makes this film utterly fantastic. 

“Joker” is not for everyone and it most certainly has a lot of controversy for all the right reasons. That being said, the film is definitely of a high quality and a great watch for those comfortable with the topics depicted on screen. 

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