‘Joker’ Exit Survey: It Puts a Smile On ~Some~ of Our Faces

by Nick Kush

A movie entitled “Joker” has arrived in theaters. Odds are that you may have heard about it. Maybe.

Joker is all over the place from fire memes to fire think pieces. Everyone has an opinion, so it was about time that we threw ourselves into the ring.

Members of the MovieBabble staff break down some of the more noteworthy parts of the film in our Joker Exit Survey. SPOILERS to follow.

Describe your overall enjoyment of the film with an appropriate GIF.

Steven Ruiz:

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Collin Willis:

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Sebastian Sanzberro:

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Olaf Lesniak:

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Chris van Dijk:

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Alessandro Louly:

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Nick Kush:

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Where does this performance by Joaquin Phoenix rank in terms of his entire career?

Steven Ruiz: He definitely carried the film with his performance. I would say it ranks just near his performance in You Were Never Really Here but not as close to his performance in Her. Joaquin delivered such a stone-cold performance, embodied the sinister mind of Joker, and could very well be worth talking about during award season.

Collin Willis: Kenai in Brother Bear > All other Joaquin roles.

Sebastian Sanzberro: Definitely an apex. I would have to say it’s a toss-up between Joker and his work in The Master. He could definitely nab Phoenix a (deserved) Oscar.

Olaf Lesniak: Although I have yet to watch some films with the actor, his work in You Were Never Really Here is my favorite role of his even if the movie itself was underwhelming. I enjoy watching Phoenix as a relentless badass. That’s not to undersell his performance in Joker which tests his skills and range the best.

Chris van Dijk: In terms of his entire career, his performance as Joker/Arthur Fleck is certainly in his top five. I would consider perhaps his performance in The Master or You Were Never Really Here possibly superior. Nonetheless, his performance as Joker is one of the greatest I’ve seen this year.

Alessandro Louly: I think his performance as Joker is one of Joaquin’s best, but it’s still not as good as his performance in You Were Never Really Here. For me, that’s still his best work. Still, Joaquin became an entirely different person for this role. I was convinced and horrified by his portrayal as the Joker throughout the film.

Nick Kush: Nothing will ever beat Freddie Quell. Joe in You Were Never Really Here came close, but still settles for silver. Joker is in the middle to lower end as far as Joaquin performances go. The screenplay never allows him to get quiet or subtle — his only move is to get louder-er. It borders on a parody of a Joaquin-plays-a-tortured-character role at times.

Who’s the best Joker?

Steven Ruiz: Heath Ledger remains at the top as the best Joker. His Joker felt very real, very maniacal, and was good at getting inside of a character’s head.

Collin Willis: Mark Hamill. Not only has he played the character more than anyone else, but he’s played him more cunning, more sadistic, and more fun than any other actor will ever be able to.

Sebastian Sanzberro: My personal favorite would have to be the late Heath Ledger. He broke the predictable conventions of the role, making the character a force of pure chaos than just a madcap mobster. Ledger made the nearly 80-year-old character seem genuinely new again.

Olaf Lesniak: Mark Hamil and Heath Ledger. Mark has the best vocal depiction of the Prince of Crime — he’s intimidating and crazy and rivals any on-screen depiction. Meanwhile, Ledger brings life to an icon in a way that paints the character as a much more subtle take on chaos.

Chris van Dijk: A tough and unfair question. All of them were memorable in their own way — besides whatever Jared Leto was doing in Suicide Squad. None of them are objectively the best. One can have personal favorites. My personal favorite probably is Jack Nicholson, just because he was born to play the character and he seemed like a genuinely unnerving and unpredictable psychopath. Naturally, Ledger is unforgettable and probably the most charming one. We mustn’t forget Cesar Romero, the original Joker, the one that raised the bar for all future Jokers. Though I must admit, when I think of the Joker, Mark Hamil’s voice always comes to mind. I need time before I can make this definitive, but I think Joaquin Phoenix will probably be my second favorite Joker of them all.

Alessandro Louly: Jared Leto of course!… Kidding. It’s still Heath Ledger for me. It’s not that Joaquin’s performance was bad or anything, but he didn’t feel like the Joker that we’re accustomed to as viewers. Maybe because there was no Batman to fight against or riff off of. All four of the live-action Jokers have their own unique spin on the character, but Joaquin’s interpretation felt different. The others shared this sense of comedy and zaniness, while Joaquin’s Joker was more serious and focused more on his mental state. While that’s obviously the tone of this movie, Ledger’s Joker is much more enjoyable to watch while still showcasing an amazing performance.

Nick Kush: I don’t really understand Arthur Fleck as a character, mostly because the movie half-heartedly literalizes everything about his origin, so he’s not the winner here. I’ve always loved the Heath Ledger version. He’s an interesting character in many ways. Viscerally, there’s no question. But he’s also a perfect cipher for terrorism in general.

Todd Phillips: good director, bad director, or somewhere in between?

Steven Ruiz: He has his hits and misses. I would say somewhere in between.

Collin Willis: So so. Phillips has some good ideas introduced in the film, but he just doesn’t have the dramatic chops to execute them to the level he aspires to.

Sebastian Sanzberro: Somewhere in between.  

Frankly, I can’t stand the douche-bro comedies for which he made his rep on (looking at you, Hangover flicks). That said, I was pretty blown away with his Joker, even if it borrows largely from the Martin Scorsese playbook (like a mashup between The King Of Comedy and Taxi Driver). The retro-feel of the film, right down to using the 70s Warner logo, was very authentic. Joker saw Philips kicking down the low-brow comedy box in which he was stuck. I was impressed.

Olaf Lesniak: I have not seen any of the Hangover films, so judging on Joker alone, I think he is a good director. He put a lot of attention to analyzing our society in a way that didn’t feel too lazy. A lot of other directors would put a more pretentious spin on it and call it “art.”

Chris van Dijk: I think it’s hard to deny his directing talents after seeing this film. It’s incredible to think that this film was directed by the guy who did the Hangover movies. Initially, there was cause for concern since there were rewrites during filming, but it worked nonetheless. Phillips genuinely cared about this project and wanted to do the material justice. Never thought I’d say this but Todd Phillips made one of the best films of the year.

Alessandro Louly: Todd Phillips surprised me as a director, I didn’t think he would be able to pull this movie off. That being said, he didn’t do anything spectacular. This film really wanted to be a Scorsese movie without any of Scorsese’s style.

Nick Kush: Some of his movies are considered classics for what they are, so there’s definitely some merit to his work. I’ve always thought that he was an incredibly slick filmmaker, but his scripts almost always have problems — Joker is a perfect encapsulation of that. In a dream scenario, I’d love to see what he could do with a Sorkin screenplay.

Describe your reaction to the subway scene, including Joker’s dance in the bathroom.

Steven Ruiz: I was not expecting that scene to be the turning point of Arthur’s life. It felt unsettling and dirty. The dance in the bathroom felt awkward and weird.

Collin Willis: As the Green Goblin once said, “Pathetically Predictable”. There was no tension and no surprise with these deaths. The bathroom scene, however, was a really good character moment for Arthur and was much appreciated.

Sebastian Sanzberro: That was pretty harrowing. As someone old enough to remember Bernhard Goetz, the subway vigilante of the 1980s, that scene really resonated with me. Disturbing in the way that a story like this should be, with no punches pulled. Unapologetically twisted and dark.

Olaf Lesniak: The subway scene was a clear setup to what the movie wanted to say. Never understood the dancing but those shots color-wise were satisfying to the eye. They were solid scenes but nothing in comparison to the moment in the children’s hospital.

Chris van Dijk: I had an inkling that this was the ideal time for Arthur Fleck to go all “Death Wish” on them. The suddenness did surprise me. As for the bathroom scene, I thought it was marvelous, mostly due to the haunting score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. I recently became aware of the fact that in the original script, Arthur was supposed to clean his make-up and throw away his gun. They opted for this route and the weird graceful dance moves. Alongside the ominous music, it perfectly encapsulates the Joker. It’s his embrace of the madness of the self that has been medicated and suppressed for far too long.

Alessandro Louly: He made his first kill so early on in the movie that you knew that this was just the beginning. I interpreted the bathroom scene as he was finally in control of his actions. He transformed into this entirely different person from thereon out.

Nick Kush: My first thought was: “oh no, does this movie think it’s smart for including a flimsy allusion to Bernie Goetz?” My second thought (on the dancing): “HAHAHAHAHAHA I didn’t realize this was a film major’s sophomore year project!”

What do you make of the film’s third act, specifically Joker’s appearance on the Murray Franklin show and the subsequent fallout?

Steven Ruiz: Joker appearing on the talk show felt very intense and on the edge. The moment that everyone will be talking about was unexpected and shocking. As for what transpired after, it doesn’t quite make sense. Crime has always been a problem in Gotham, why would Joker’s actions be the reason behind riots?

Collin Willis: Here’s where the movie misses its mark the most. Arthur has two notable antagonists in the film, and neither feels overwhelmingly resonant because of how much screen time the other gets. Murray suffers because he takes the backseat to Thomas Wayne until he’s suddenly at the wheel.

Sebastian Sanzberro: It felt like a darker alternate ending that The King Of Comedy never used, taking it one gruesome step further… and I was fine with that.

I wasn’t quite as in love with the Bruce Wayne/Batman origin story, as it felt tacked-onto the story. Frankly, I was enjoying Joker much more as a dramatic film than as yet another comic book tie-in movie. I can’t even imagine (nor do I want to imagine) Batman, Wonder Woman, or Superman turning up in this universe. It would be as jarring as Iron Man flying in to save the day at the end of The French Connection. Here’s hoping they keep this one a single, noble entry in the DC film canon.

Olaf Lesniak: Oh yeah, the final act was great. I love how they managed to incorporate Joker into the Wayne murder. It was a fantastic reimagining that at first, I wasn’t sure about. What a way to portray Gotham as the House of Revolution and Crime. Still, I don’t know what all the dancing was all about.

Chris van Dijk: The third-act was genuinely intense. I loved the subway chase and the eventual confrontation between Murray Franklin (aka Rupert Pupkin). The shocking violence that ensued was perfectly handled — love the ode to Network that followed. What I loved too is Joker’s effeminate demeanor and his eventual rambling. It doesn’t make sense to those who don’t know his story. He just genuinely looks like a disturbed and sick individual. The riot that followed after, him being cheered on by the disgruntled Gothamites felt liberating for the character (and immensely satisfying to his arc). It shows the sickness of society, the Joker received a reward despite all the evil he’s committed, similar to Travis Bickle. It was intense, emotionally satisfying and didn’t hold back.

Alessandro Louly: The ending with Murray and Arthur was really great. The whole riot and revolution afterward left me with a bitter taste. It’s not necessarily glorifying Arthur’s violent actions (especially if it’s all in his head), but it can definitely be interpreted that way. Although, I do have to say the decision to play Cream’s “White Room” during the riots is such an amazing choice lyrically for that scene.

Nick Kush: For all my gripes with the film, the third act was genuinely tense, and even unnerving at times. (Brownie points for getting a solid performance out of De Niro!) After the talk show appearance, however, I just didn’t care…at all. How many times do we have to see the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents? (In a way that is incredibly hackneyed and forced, I might add.) There should definitely be a moratorium on it by now.

What’s your letter grade of the film on a scale from F to A+?

Steven Ruiz: D. I appreciate Todd Phillips taking this well-known character and giving him a new take on his origin story. I appreciate the fact that it’s dark, twisted, uncomfortable, and risky. I like what he has to say about how people ignore the fact that mental illness affects lives. However, the film feels like it’s stretching, being more than it needs to be. It wants to say more than it needs to say. It wants to hit messages on society, politics, and crime. It’s biting off more than it can chew.

Collin Willis: B. Joker has a very nice coat of paint on top of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that Todd Phillips is driving around in a DeLorean. It looks great, but it’s basically useless when the rubber meets the road.

Sebastian Sanzberro: A solid A.

Olaf Lesniak: It’s a B. A solid film with a strong commentary that hits home in the “age of the annoying, mean people who don’t listen.”

Chris van Dijk: For me, this is a definite A+. The fact that so many people can’t stop talking about it, even the detractors, tells you that this movie did something right. It’s amazing that a film like this, a slow-burning, R-rated character study, can receive such commercial success. We need more films like this and less of all that CGI Marvel/Disney nonsense (yes, Martin Scorsese was right guys, get over it).

Alessandro Louly: B. I liked this movie. Is this the greatest movie or comic book movie ever? No. This film had an important message to tell about mental illness but I felt that the film lost some of its impact when it overtly tried to tie-in into the Batman universe. That being said, Joaquin’s performance is without a doubt the best thing about this film.

Nick Kush: It’s a C. I simply don’t think that Joker has much to say at all — other than generic ideas like “we need to take care of the mentally ill.” It’s probably the best looking movie I’ve seen this year, but that’s really about it.

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elmarinero77 October 15, 2019 - 3:59 pm

I really liked it. But….it didn’t need to be a “Joker” movie. As a study of a vulnerable guy pushed to madness by the system it was great. But the Thomas Wayne stuff felt tacked on. However, it’s made 100 times more money by being Batman linked than it would have done on it’s own.
The film it reminded me of was ‘Gridlock’d’. People vainly fighting a stacked system. But Gridlock’d didn’t make money, so…sigh

Nick Kush October 16, 2019 - 12:38 pm

I felt pretty cynical to it myself lol. Each connection to a comic book is pretty useless in my mind. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the movie overall, it’s far more interesting when it’s trying to do its own thing.

Nick Kush October 15, 2019 - 9:16 am

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