That’s Life

The steps leading up to Arthur Fleck’s low rent, one bedroom slum apartment are like those in Rocky, only rather than leading to a sense of accomplishment, they lead to another failure. Fleck takes that route each day.

To Joker those steps mean everything. They represent this villain’s failure. Eventually, his success too. It’s a subtle touch in a movie that isn’t often subtle. In this 1970s Gotham, garbage piles on the streets due to a strike, as if the world around Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) needed such a metaphor. Newspaper headlines cry, “Kill the Rich” during – it’s assumed – this post-Vietnam, oil crisis period. Were Fleck born a decade later, he’d scour MTV for Marilyn Manson videos and worship the Columbine perpetrators; he’s that disassociated and separated from reality.

In that, Joker is dangerously projecting, even identifiable to at-risk people. Joker concerns a sociopath’s rise, yet establishes an empathetic baseline. Although it’s known Fleck will become the Batman villain, the camera draws hard isolation. Rejection is crushing. Society’s reaction further withdraws him, whether through violence or misunderstanding. Pity, and by design.

Joker is dangerously projecting, even identifiable to at-risk people


Overblown for its angst, Fleck becomes a vision of contemporary society; the year seems incidental, or maybe protective. Were this today, Fleck would find comfort online, among equally disenfranchised peers. That’s who Fleck speaks too: Self-loathing individuals who live stream their murderous actions, seeking fulfillment and fame. Depressed, wrongly accused, and shunned (by both a government system and women), Joker recreates this character with an unhealthy morbidity.

Joker is designed for mania. He demands fear through uncertainty. There is another Joker character in similar circumstances, a neighbor to Fleck, Sophie (Zazie Beetz). A single mother living in the same poverty, she detests but deals with her resources. That’s the difference the two; that too is how Joker intends to separate the sympathetic from manic.

Joker is inherently uncomfortable. That likely is a compliment to some. Maybe it is. Fleck’s hate, once publicly visible, creates a movement. A climactic riot bringing anti-rich spite and social disillusion draws too close a parallel to current events. Of course Joker is the bad guy; so too are those who marched in Charlottesville’s hate rally, and yet some circles defended – even praised – those actions.

Fleck does kill people. One victim dies with such explicit cruelty, there’s no question as to his unflinching apathy toward the world. But that’s after Fleck’s frail body is exposed, his social worker is laid off, his sickly mother grows increasingly ill, and he’s mocked for an uncontrollable mental condition. That’s where Joker fails. It’s not Joaquin Phoenix’s startling and convincing performance. It’s not the dazzling cinematography. It’s not due to the lack of a counter balancing hero as per tradition. Rather, it’s how this Joker is too many of us now. No, Joker isn’t at fault for social ills, but chooses to inflame them by casting this despicable person as an anti-hero.

Video

Finished at native 4K, the splendor begins early. The way facepaint covers Phoenix down to the smallest pores is unmissable at this resolution. Gotham/New York exteriors coat the city in stains, perfectly unappealing in the intended way. Texture drawn by this scenario is never lost. This disc emboldens that look. Skin texture excels, even with distance. Equally impressive is how this maintains that standard even in low light, especially during a subway attack.

Gorgeously desaturated, the color palette evokes the ‘70s through an excess of amber. Browns play tough too, so Joker isn’t pushing extreme depth. Instead, it’s pale and flat with a dryness that avoids true black. In Dolby Vision, this looks atypical, yet is configured precisely for style. Rich highlights remain with strong light sources (headlights, for one), nestling comfortably in these decisions. In that, Joker is gorgeous.

While digitally shot, a fine grain filter rests over the image. Encoding handles this without issue. Warner’s compression doesn’t struggle, or leave excess noise in shadows.

Audio

An evocative and cruel score seems to narrate Joker. Its presence captures the low-end, willing to push deep and give scenes needed sonic depth. This is equally apparent when music swells, filling the Atmos-encoded mix with an elegant precision.

Around Joker, the city lives. Crowds swell, subway trains rattle, and exteriors hold their presence. Without bombastic action, Joker uses audio to keep Fleck centered. Listen when he’s first on stage and a band begins playing. The camera sweeps around, that band’s music tracking in each channel as it goes. For the finish, a car accident blasts the subwoofer and a riot spreads to each speaker. The aggression for something this dour deserves credit.

Extras

While the 22-minute making of runs through the usual points of interest, the rest is thin. Phoenix’s screen test focuses on expressions, alternate takes of Fleck appearing on stage earn their own montage, A Chronicle of Chaos is a photo gallery.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Joker
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

While engaging and evocative, Joker draws draws its protagonist with far too much empathy given the nature of this character.

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