hannah’s review published on Letterboxd:
Yeah, I know, I didn’t rate this. That’s because I honestly don’t know what to think. I walked out the theater last night very conflicted, and a bit confused. It’s weird to me how polarizing this film has been, though.
There were definitely pros and cons to it. An obvious pro was Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. He was stunning in this role and really fascinating to watch. His whole thing with the laugh was interesting and well-done. The visuals were beautiful; cinematography was on point with some really nice shots I can specifically recall. Just the atmosphere and aesthetic were beautifully done, and there were some seamless scenes that just followed the action in one shot. Opening scene, for example, was great. What they did with Thomas Wayne and his son, as well as the structure of Gotham, was a really interesting perspective and I enjoyed seeing that world. The score and soundtrack were also brilliant, though I felt that they overwhelmed at times in the role of a sometimes-too-heavy expositional tool.
I’ve heard a lot of people say this film is ripping off The French Connection (I can definitely see that influence) or Scorsese; as the only film of his I’ve seen (YET) is Hugo (I know I’m an uncultured swine but I’m working on it), I can’t really give an opinion there. Perhaps I liked the film more because I haven’t seen the other, better movies it’s supposedly ripping off. So I don’t stand by the people who adamantly support this film, but I also can’t stand by those who hate it for “copying” other films (although apparently he’s supposed to have done that on purpose? which I don’t get?)
There were also a lot of cons. My biggest issue was that there was no climax or goal it was building towards. We watched things happen with no direction, which made it confusing. There is no character development or revelation as to why exactly he becomes the Joker. After his first kill(s), what led him to being okay with it and committing at a second time? We don’t even touch on his psychological processing of his own actions until the “final confrontation” if it can even be called that, as this film truly lacks that build in many ways. Instead, it’s a repetitive focus on Arthur’s sadness and depression— he gets beat up by society, no one loves him, “oh in case you forgot guys he’s depressed did you know that he’s depressed”— it drags on and its only use as I see it is to try to make us sympathize with Arthur more. The ending contributed to the confusion, making one wonder what’s supposed to be real or not in the whole film.
A weird thing I noticed was that the writers didn’t seem to know why we should care about a lot of things, particularly the deaths of people at Joker’s hands. We know why Arthur would kill them, but there’s no emphasis on any of the deaths (with the exception of maaaybe the second to last one or last one). The writers are going, “and then Arthur killed this guy” and I’m like, “yes that makes sense but why are you showing me? What’s significant, is the message just ‘this person was mean to him and now they’re dead!’, or is it supposed to be a part of the path leading Arthur to become Joker?”
Ledger v Phoenix is an interesting debate— I think they’re different kinds of crazy. On an acting level, they’re both fantastic, but character-wise they’re different. Ledger’s is organized crime with a plan whereas Phoenix’s is personal crime without one. Ledger’s has a bigger mission. One thing my dad pointed out that I found interesting is that it’s hard to see Phoenix’s Joker as some kind of big villain or leader in his world, especially since his motivations are so self-centered and he emphasized he didn’t care about politics. Whereas Ledger’s enjoys causing chaos and crime, Phoenix’s doesn’t seem to have more than personal aspirations at this point in the film. Perhaps the first closing scene was supposed to convey a shift. Who can know tbh.
Overall, there were things I liked and things I didn’t. I need to rewatch it to solidify my opinions and see if I view it in a new light. I found the film tried to have a lot of different messages, but the character himself didn’t contain any of those messages (at least not well). He never learned or grew much, at least not in a clear way. David Ehrlich put it best: “‘Joker’ has the chutzpah to recontextualize Batman’s villain as Gotham’s hero, but not the spine to interrogate what that really means.”
(I recommend David’s opinion piece on Joker as well as my boi Houston’s video on it, which was great. Additionally, for a more positive review I still found merit in, check out this one by Jacob Knight.)