“Sympathy for the devil” begins with an unreliable narrator. Understanding this concept will enhance your viewing pleasure of this film if being seated next to a madman on a roller coaster ride is your idea of pleasure.
The film opens with Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) putting on his clown make-up and preparing for his temp job as a sign carrier for a failed business. After being mugged on the street by a bunch of callow boys, Arthur loses his job because his sign is destroyed.
Defeated, Arthur returns to his one room apartment that he shares with his delusional mother. The two find pleasure in watching Murray Franklin’s (Robert DeNiro) celebrity night time television show. Beyond that, many things happen and Arthur is right in the middle of these wild situations. Sometimes, Arthur is the agent of chaos; sometimes, he is the victim of chaos. Regardless of the circumstance, Arthur laughs at jokes that only he understands.
Through the cloak of ambiguity, this film manages to raise social messages. From a subway shooting that echoes Bernard Goetz’s 1984 headlines, Arthur inspires a mass protest to “Kill the Rich” by people wearing clown make-up, which echoes the 2014 Ferguson Missouri riots.
Batman’s Father, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is a self-made billionaire, who commits to the political ambition to become Mayor of Gotham City, which echoes Donald F. Trump’s Presidency.
Much like Renee Zellweger’s performance in Judy, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Joker is likely to be Oscar-nominated. The actor runs the gamut of human emotions. One feels sorry for Arthur, but the seduction of evil is real and an unsuspecting individual could easily become the Joker’s prey.
Though clowns have been part of the entertainment industry since the Roman Circus, recently clowns have been front and center during recent Halloweens. Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King’s It books and movies have been trick or treat favorites and horror movie convention winners. Like Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker fits right into this Rogues Gallery Circus.
For those who want to don greasepaint beyond Halloween, the Kazoo and Drum Corps for the “Day of the Dead” is seeking volunteers for the parade in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, Nov. 2. (Visit the website at www.dayofthedeadflorida.com.)