The hidden ghost in the Joker

Donia Mounir, Monday 14 Oct 2019

Not without a reason film Joker has already surpassed Pulp Fiction and The Godfather part two on the IMDB top ten rated movies coming right after The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather I

Photo: still from film Joker

“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” (Joker, 2019)

Since its release across international cinemas in early October, the film Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, has caused considerable hype. No wonder, since the drama thriller touches on many nerves, social and psychological being among them. The promotion and warnings, however, capitalise mainly on the film's psychological thread of the story and violence that it includes, respectively.

Indeed, both the director and actor Joaquin Phoenix who plays the role of Arthur Fleck/Joker have taken us down to the deepest and darkest of holes, through tackling a critical topic that for many years was considered a taboo: the mental illness. Many of the psychological disorders are invisible, and what are visible are the actions made by the person who is inflicted with that illness.

The Joker is a fictional character that was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson in 1940. Since that time everyone has either fallen in love with that character or despised him. Over the years the joker has been portrayed by so many talented actors, each actor showing the side they believed the joker was all about, today we have one more astonishing performance to add to the ledger. 

Philips brilliantly connected the illness with a prominent trait of the joker which is his insane laughter that everyone translated as his cruelty, when in fact in the movie it was just an affliction that he had no control over. This is a nod to the 1928 silent movie The Man Who Laughs portrayed by the great actor Conrad Veidt, where in the movie he is disfigured as a child by a king and his mouth is slit open on both sides. Whenever anyone saw him they burst into laughter because of his unusual appearance, showing that people choose to act and react before even attempting to know the person and reasons behind his appearance.

Phillips' Joker is described by many as dangerous. However, it is not the physical violence that leads to such conclusion. It shows that even the worst of villains were at some point just humans trying to survive before society pushed them to the verge of madness.

To be able to empathise with one of the most notorious criminals in the history of cinema is scary, yet liberating, seeing that the world is not all black and white but actually full of shades of grey that put all your convictions and beliefs to shame as you can no longer figure out what is right and wrong. This is the danger that haunts you after you leave the theatre.

Joaquin Phoenix is truly a phoenix, at the beginning of any of his movies you can see him setting himself on fire and then rising from the ashes no longer Joaquin but truly the embodiment of the character he is playing.

Phoenix is the first actor to show us the clown side of the joker, not because it was his profession but because you could see the soul of the clown, the fluidity of his movements in the bathroom dancing scene was heavily influenced by Marcel Marceau (Bip the clown) a French actor and mime artist that innovated the mime movement and took it to a whole new level.


Of all the scenes in Joker it is this dancing scene that takes you inside the joker’s mind to catch a glimpse of what goes on in there. It is also the moment you can see Arthur Fleck cowering into a dark corner in his mind while the joker finally emerges, it is exactly like the curtains have been lifted and the spotlight is finally on the joker so he gives the best entrance he can for the start of his new chaotic life.

Joker shows you for the first time the reasons that pushed one of cinema’s most infamous villains to become who he is. Director Phillips led us into Gotham’s dark belly, as we witnessed the effects that each and every one of the characters had on the man that would become the joker.

Joker brings so many talented actors together including the acclaimed actor Robert De Niro, who funnily enough played the role of a deranged stand-up comedian, whose whole dream was to appear on a show and meet his favorite comedian, but ends up committing a series of crimes. 

De Niro stated that that role was an homage to his role in The King of Comedy with the great Jerry Lewis. In this movie, De Niro reverses his role as he plays the role of the talk show host that Arthur Fleck desperately wants to meet.

Actress Frances Conroy dazzles with her role as Penny Fleck (Arthur’s mother). Conroy’s performance enchants you as you first see her as the frail mother who loves her son so much, but as the movie goes on we discover that this woman carries more secrets than one might think. 


The soundtrack of Joker was created by prominent composer Hildur Guðnadóttir who also composed the soundtrack of the highly acclaimed show Chernobyl.  Guðnadóttir  focused on the violin that penetrates the joker’s brain waves and the highs and lows of his creation as you witness the death of Arthur Fleck and the emergence of the joker.

Joker is a double-edged sword, you can come out of the movie condemning the world and society for the creation of so much violence, that could have been avoided if just taken care of, and you can go on with that hate and apply it to this world, or you can choose to understand further more about mental illness and the affliction it has on its victims, and spread awareness about the many people that we condemn and label as freaks just because they are outside society’s definition of the norm. In the end it is your choice to make as a viewer.

There has been many backlashes at this movie as viewers worry of the portrayal of mental illness and how it transforms to chaos and crime. When a movie portrays mental illness that is how it raises awareness. Joker has been in cinemas for over a week now and no one can stop talking about it, which means that its message has gone through. 

Moreover, Joker has already surpassed Pulp Fiction and The Godfather II on the IMDB top 10 rated movies as it now holds the third position on the list right after The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. This movie has proven that one does not need a high budget to make a cinematic masterpiece, nor does a movie need a heap load of Computer Generated Imagery to become a huge success.

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