Review: Joker is powerful portrayal of tragic origin story

Joaquin Phoenix takes on the new role of Joker in a portrayal of Batman’s infamous enemy in the origin story. Photo Courtesy of IMDb

McKenzie Oviatt | Reporter

In “The Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, the viewer receives background information about the famous character’s upbringing, leaving them stunned by what they just watched on screen, even hours after the movie concludes.

Before “The Joker” was created, viewers did not have a grasp of who the character truly was or where the narrative of Batman originally came from. Dark themes pervade the movie, and the viewer is left wondering who they should ultimately feel sorry for.

Arthur Fleck, the movie’s protagonist who ultimately becoming the Joker, makes the viewer question whether he should be shown empathy for murdering several people, and the director probes the question of whether he is truly a sick person.

“The Joker” portrays dark humor and the viewer is caught between wanting to empathize with the Joker’s upbringing and wanting him to make informed decisions for himself, given that he is not a child any longer.

During his childhood, Fleck had been abused by his mother; however, he shows immense gratitude and responsibility for his mother’s care in her old age, making him a character to sympathize with. Fleck’s mother is sick and in need of care, which the Joker freely provides her with.

Only when Fleck learns through medical records of his mother’s mistreatment towards him does he grow resentful towards her. The viewer can almost conclude that his misdeeds are stemmed from his upbringing until the viewer realizes that Fleck had actually murdered people in cold blood even before he remembered how he was raised.

This begs the question—does his character have justifiable actions or at what point does he have to be held responsible for his atrocities?

A prevailing theme in many movies is “the sins of the father,” which often affect the current decisions of the family and specifically, the decisions of the son. The dark twist in “The Joker” is that the sins of the mother affect the sins of the son. Fleck’s character development demonstrates how the family environment can change how a child views the world.

Deep into the movie, Fleck’s mother’s background begins to unravel, showing how the storyline all started. She was working for Batman’s father and had a certain perception of their romantic relationship. Truth ultimately is revealed in fragments and it is up to the viewer to decide who to side with: Batman’s father or the Joker’s mother. Animosity rises between the two adults long before Batman and the Joker grow up.

On the one hand, the viewer can easily conclude that Fleck’s mother is crazy and deserved to be sentenced to a mental institution for harming the welfare of her child. On the other hand, however, it can be interpreted that the mother was confused about her own reality.

From Fleck’s mother’s point of view, her and Batman’s father were madly in love and bore a child together. When Batman’s mother found out she was pregnant, Batman’s father tried to save his marriage and seemingly perfect family. Numerous scenes about the characters’ backgrounds can be viewed from multiple perspectives. The confusion of it all engrosses the viewer, causing them to insert themselves into the lives of each of the characters.

Gotham City was already taking a nasty turn, and it was the Joker who set the plans in action for constructing a dystopian society. The movie shows Batman as a young orphaned child who witnesses his parents’ murder, ultimately deciding how he would want to set the city back in order out of respect for his parents’ life work.

“The Joker” leads the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster that continues days after viewing the movie, leaving them with several questions to consider.

Should the Joker have made the same mistakes or could he have broken the sins of the mother? And whose truth is correct: Fleck’s mother’s truth about the affair given her unstable mental condition or Batman’s father’s truth about his devotion towards his family? Are Batman and the Joker truly brothers or does the Joker’s mother live in her own fantasy world?

Would the Joker have murdered as many people as he did if his mother didn’t have the same internal torment, or was the Joker always doomed to become evil, no matter where his family came from?

Contemplating the truth behind these decisions is the only true method to watching this convoluted film.