Joker: A cinematic look at madness

3 years ago Triangle 0

Written by: Devin Burrow, managing editor

Few movies have ever managed to create an uneasy, yet moving atmosphere like director Todd Phillips’ new R-rated comic book flick, Joker

Released on Friday, Oct. 4, the film uses veteran actor Joaquin Phoenix’s performance to create a more mad and sinister villain than we have ever seen before. 

Perhaps one of the most compelling portrayals of the Joker is led by Phoenix, who is famous for his roles in the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” and the award winning movie “Her”. 

From the moment Phoenix is first on screen, the viewer can see madness buried in the eyes of his version of the mentally strained villain. 

Joker from the opening scene of the movie. Photo by

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a clown for hire who has aspirations of becoming a comedian. Fleck’s dreams are inspired by his mother’s thoughts of him. She believes he is “made to make people laugh and smile.” 

Fleck struggles to maintain sanity as he also deals with a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in serious situations. This, coupled with terrible social anxiety, places him as an outcast in the society of Gotham City, the setting of the movie. 

As the city crumbles from corruption and even “super rats,” Fleck crumbles into insanity. As the movie progresses, Fleck slips into madness and develops into the villainous character of the Joker.  

Joker from the opening scene of the movie. Photo by

Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir scored the movie with one of the most intense soundtracks of all time. Joker’s most chaotic scenes are scored with an orchestral version of carnival music, while most dramatic scenes have little to no sound, which emphasizes the performance of the actors and the difficult situations they find themselves in. 

DeNiro as fictional t.v. host Murray Franklin; photo by

The movie has a fantastic supporting cast including Robert DeNiro who serves as a fictional TV show host and hero to Fleck, Murray Franklin. Franklin turns Fleck’s world upside down when he invites him to be on his show after a clip of his stand-up comedy routine goes viral. 

The movie doesn’t just play out as any normal comic book movie, but has a strong contemporary commentary about mental health. 

Most iterations of the Joker portray him as an evil mastermind who is so chaotic, he has no reason to do what he does. Phoenix’s Joker is different in two ways. 

Firstly, Phoenix’s Joker is mentally disturbed and deals with multiple illnesses which he takes 7 medications for. Other versions of the character, most notably Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight, simply makes the Joker out to be plain evil without giving excuses as to why. 

Secondly, this Joker has reason to what he does. The entire film is centered around Fleck wanting to be known. By the climax of the movie, Fleck realizes that to be “seen,” he must do unspeakable acts of terror. This is in contrast to Ledger’s portrayal, who’s Joker just “wants to see the world burn.”

In today’s society, which has been plagued by school shooting massacres, mental health has been a big conversation. The Joker’s descent into madness is very much akin to the madness of shooters and domestic terrorists in the real world. This also draws from shooters who sometimes only committed the atrocities they did in order to be known. This movie opens up conversation about how to appropriately respond to someone who is dealing with mental health issues. 

In a biblical worldview, we can see the Joker’s mental health issues and subsequent madness is in relation to man’s fall as seen in Genesis Chapter 3. 

According to online movie ratings site Rotten Tomatoes, Joker has found favor in the eyes of movie-goers at 90% over actual film critics who gave the movie an average score of 68%. 

Joker is currently out in theaters and is rated R for strong language, brief scenes of nudity and intense sequences.

*Note: this article expresses the ideas and opinions of the author and are not a reflection of the views of the Triangle or Bryan College as a whole.

Devin Burrow is the managing editor for He is a senior communications major with an emphasis in digital media. Devin serves as a resident assistant and senior class male senator at Bryan College.