A prime example of holistic filmmaking, Joker has swept the comic film genre off its feet. From the very first portrayal of Arthur, we already know what the story is about - a clown's quest for happiness. Arthur Fleck is a character whose desire is simpler and more innocent than that of many other antiheroes. He wants to be happy and make those around him happy. It attributes to the innocence he begins with, to his justification for his heartbreaking spiral into madness and acceptance. Such purity of a protagonist's want is precious and scarce and as such, not only is Arthur unique, but stands out among other exceptionally written protagonists.
Philips' film must also be viewed through intertextuality if it is to be allowed just criticism. He took the single largest DC villain and made him what none had attempted before in film. He made the Joker into Arthur Fleck, a man of flesh and skin. The loony laughter portrayed as condition over which he has no control, his unorthodox and to an extent sickening sense of humor, all his ticks as a madman have been given a human quality allowing us to understand him. What most carries the character is his predisposition for sympathy which arises from these characteristics.
Phoenix's performance is nothing short of astonishing. His stature, timidity and the eeriness of his gaze impeccably allow us a window into his thoughts. Sudden shifts in behavior are well expressed and accented and we don't miss a beat of the story because of it.
The music often plays the role of truth, providing insight on Arthur's real feelings on the situation whenever he's hiding behind a smile or having a fit of laughter. It is more than a simple contrapuntal melody as the dark string leitmotif subtly represents his shadow, the evil within him he must accept. Bit by bit he comes to terms with it through his dance. His first kills liberate him. As he opens to himself, the music follows. Guðnadóttir's strings are also prevalent in one other distinct scene - his first encounter with Bruce Wayne. It has been pointed out that the cello also plays as an homage to Zimmer's and Newton Howard's Joker theme in The Dark Knight. That upholds the fact Joker is a well-established figure, with Phillips merely giving us his take on it.
Joker uses several rudiments to encapsulate the viewer in a state of complete immersion with the film world. Cinematography and sound design work effortlessly together to create a three-dimensional world. A great deal of the shots have several layers of mise en scène teeming with information that design a wild landscape for Arthur to inhabit. The set design and cinematography have an immense contribution to the beautifully chaotic and unforgiving world.
Despite crashing in a big ball of fire by the end, Arthur manages to succeed. He eventually comes to terms with himself and accepts that he's different while exacting revenge on those who have caused him pain. And so, it ends with him laughing because it's what he wants, not attributing it to pressure from himself or others.
From Phoenix to Guðnadóttir to Phillips, as well as the rest of the cast and crew, they all have made sure the film excels in its attempt to shed light on an unknown side of a familiar character. Perhaps the simplicity of Arthur’s quest is what makes Joker a remarkable film.