Joker: Hit or Miss?


Mickey Lonner and Zac Nicholas, Staff Writers


Joker is a dark, twisted, and beautiful film. Todd Phillip’s cinematic masterpiece is a work of art, with a Joaquin Phoenix performance that deserves all the praise in the world. His take on the deranged and psychotic killer is one for the history books. However, some critics of the film believe his interpretation is not a fulfilling addition to the character’s story. To put it simply, these critics are wrong. 

The film does what a lot of Joker portrayals have not done: he is given a backstory. This is the story of Arthur Fleck, a depressed, socially awkward, mentally ill man who has never quite fit in with society. He works as a clown during the day and hopes to secure a successful stand-up comedy career. But, he is completely isolated and ostracized. Bullied and disregarded by everyone around him, he slowly descends into madness.

The important thing to remember about this film is that it is one interpretation of a great character. A character who does not have a definitive backstory, whose background is ambiguous. This mystery is one aspect of what makes the character great. But just because he does not have a backstory in the comics, does not mean he cannot be given one. This movie takes an amazing character and tries to give an explanation as to why he is what he is and why he does what he does. 

It is not accurate when it comes to the comics, but it is greatly inspired by the comics. The setting of Gotham, along with supporting characters such as Thomas Wayne, goes along with the Batman story. Elements of the Joker’s charisma and comedic nature are hinted at. By the end of the film, he has the absolute madness that the Joker is known for. Every movie made about a comic book character does not have to be directly accurate in relation to the comics. 

Joker offers a different take on the character, and it hits the mark. Joaquin Phoenix is chillingly breathtaking as the titular character and delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. His character’s mad, psychotic, and demented nature is incredibly well executed. It is a great addition to an already excellent character. 

It is no secret that the Joker is one of the best fictional villains of all time. He is the perfect foil to his arch-nemesis Batman, and some of his most heinous acts are regarded as some of the best comic book stories ever. I already explained how his backstory is ambiguous. Does this mean no one can take a stab at a backstory? No one can try to tell this character’s story outside of Batman’s influence?

That is not what filmmaking is about. Films are meant to take risks, to tell different stories. This is the story of the Joker. It is not THE story of the Joker. It is just one case. Todd Phillips did not try and make the one and only background film for the villain. He wanted to tell a creative story about a deranged man who becomes a great character, and his film is beautiful.

It does not have to correlate to the other interpretations of the Joker. Those interpretations of the Joker have been done before. This interpretation is different and it is so interesting. It may not go along with the other interpretations of the character, but the thing is; it doesn’t have to.

Who said a character has to always be portrayed in the same way? That should not be the case, especially with a character so mysterious and ambiguous as the Joker. It is a fine addition to the character. It may not be the addition some were hoping for, but it is a great addition nonetheless.



Joker is a compelling, disturbing movie that masterfully builds tension and dread over the course of the film. It is well-executed and well-acted. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the titular character is as terrifying as it is fascinating to watch. It is incredibly effective as a movie about a mentally ill man slowly succumbing to violence. But is Joker a successful addition to the story of one of the most iconic villains of all time? The answer is no. 

To start, the idea of giving the Joker a backstory movie is strange in its own right. Though the Joker has a few possible backstories throughout the comics, nothing is ever specified, leaving the character with an air of mystery. What’s more, this is intentional. Some of the character’s most iconic moments occur when discussing his backstory, or lack thereof. In the Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Joker repeats the line, “You wanna know where I got these scars?” followed by disparate accounts of his past and no actual conclusion. In the Killing Joke, the Joker says that “if [he’s] going to have a past, [he prefers] it to be multiple choice.” Therefore, Joker contradicts one main trait of character from the very root of its story. 

More problems arise when looking deeper into the Joker’s character. While Joaquin Phoenix does a brilliant job of portraying Arthur Fleck of a deeply disturbed man, the intelligence and charisma that characterizes the Joker as a character is notably lacking. The Joker might be insane, but there’s a purpose behind his actions, a method to his madness—not so in the new film. While the Joker is often portrayed as in control of himself and everyone around him, Arthur Fleck can’t even control his own laugh. Instead of a criminal mastermind, he has the feel of a mentally ill man on a rampage. 

Furthermore, Joker takes away from the Joker’s whole purpose as a villain. As twisted as his actions are, the Joker historically has a point he’s trying to prove—that everyone is only one bad day away from becoming just as bad as he is. He’s a nihilist who believes that none of his actions matter, even the worst of them. The Joker isn’t sane, but he’s rational and thinking. His crimes aren’t random, they’re deliberate. Nothing about Arthur Fleck seems calculated. 

When watching Joker, the differences between Joker and Arthur Fleck are plentiful and noticeable. To fans of the Joker’s character, the two don’t even seem like the same person, save for the clown makeup. There’s no question that Joaquin Phoenix plays the character masterfully; that the film is visually stunning; and that the tension building throughout the film kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Nevertheless, Joker contradicts and detracts from so many of the traits that make the iconic villain. As a movie, Joker is captivating and disturbing. But as a Joker backstory, it completely misses its mark.