‘Joker’ is a vintage movie for modern times, proudly wearing its nihilistic inspirations on its sleeve

'Joker' brings beautiful cinematography, outstanding scoring, and an award worthy performance, but also draws from past films for its inspirations.


Tate Hildyard

Iowa City citizen Hans House poses for a portrait at Filmscene on Thursday, October 3rd, 2019. Hans dressed as The Joker for the premier screening of the new Joker film.

Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

~This article may include aspects of the film that contain spoilers.~

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” This line is spoken by the Joker himself in Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The Killing Joke. In a story much like Joker, both movies show a possible origin story for the infamous clown prince of Gotham.

In Todd Phillips’ Joker, Arthur Fleck does indeed have a really, really bad day. Joker follows the tale of an isolated, failing comedian and street clown in Gotham City — a town reaching its boiling point.

Fleck is all alone in the world, afflicted with many mental illnesses including a condition where he has intense, high pitched laughing fits when faced with negative situations or thoughts. After being faced with many obstacles, Fleck slowly descends into the Joker, a maniacal, dancing killer.

If the idea of the Joker having a backstory irritates you in any way, this is not the film for you. This movie behaves like a Elseworld DC Comics story, with stories based around a twist on classic tales of heroes and villains. The writers and artists played drastically with backstories and characters, because these tales were self-contained and never planned to be connected with anything else.

Joker draws inspiration from several past films, specifically ones that deal with social outcast archetypes.

Phillips has been very vocal that Joker was inspired by two Martin Scorsese films, Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. Both of these movies follow an isolated, mentally ill male who by the end becomes very violent. Whole scenes are imitated or transferred from these films to Joker.

This film seems to have caused an unprecedented amount of paranoia to the theater experience. I saw this film in a theater where police with bullet-proof vests and weapons waited in the lobby. Though I feel the film, much like Taxi Driver, won’t cause real-world violence, this theatrical experience will long be remembered by the people of this generation.

The main aspects of the actual film, though, that will be remembered by future generations is three main traits — cinematography, soundtrack, and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

This performance is being talked about by fans and critics alike, with Oscar buzz growing each day. Phoenix’s Arthur and Joker take on a life of their own once they are on screen. With such subtle nuanced acting choices, even the slightest facial reaction or smile gives the audience chills.

The tension in this film is also prominent and well-played. Something as small as a knock-knock joke or a door chain lock makes whole audiences hold their breath. Joker leaves you with a sense of unsettlement, questioning, and pondering thoughts. Joker will be with you long after the credits have finished.

With all that being said, Joker is so tied to past films that it can’t be seen as the most original and dark tale ever be put to screen. Joker is a movie inspired by greater movies than itself. Because of that, it can’t be displayed as showing something that was never displayed before.

However, I love that this film was given to writers, a director, and actors that were willing to take a chance and make a vintage film from a bygone era for 2019.

Joker has already made a new record for October. Bringing in $93.5 million at the box office, with a budget of $55 million, Joker has clearly been a financial success, even if there has been controversy around the main messages of the film.

This film is a piece of art that will sit on the shelf for years to come with an ever-changing interpretation of it. None can say for sure what Joker means. Either this film embodies a dark, real side of society today, or if it glorifies the actions of a true villain. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the Joker will have the last laugh.

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