From campy clown to terrifying madman, Joker no longer a laughing matter

Jeck Deocampo   •   October 4, 2019   •   175

There are no capes, no special powers and no battles between good and evil in the new “Joker” movie, whose portrayal of the most famous villain in comic book history is the most chilling twist on the character in 50 years.

The Joker has been depicted on television and in movies since 1966 and has undergone a series of ever darker transformations from his early days as a campy clown with a mirthless laugh.

“Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and opening in movie theaters worldwide this week after winning the top prize at the Venice film festival last month, is the first film where the Joker is the lead character but there is no Batman.

Set in the 1980s New York, the Warner Bros film is a standalone origin story that depicts the man who becomes Batman’s arch-nemesis as an isolated, bullied, delusional, mentally-ill loser who unwittingly inspires a populist rebellion manned by other outcasts adopting red noses and clown masks.

Phoenix, 44, whose performance is seen by awards watchers as a likely contender for the best actor Oscar next year, told reporters in Venice in August, “I didn’t refer to any past creations of this character.”

Phoenix’s take on the Joker is far removed from Cesar Romero, who was the first actor to play the role in the 1960s “Batman” television series, which was mainly aimed at children.

In 1989, Jack Nicholson brought his edgy, maniacal touch to the character in the “Batman” movie but was still largely a prankster.

Ledger reinvented him as unsettling and unhinged in 2008 in “The Dark Knight” in 2008, when the Joker became a terrorist in a post-Sept. 11 2001 era beset by fears of anarchy and chaos.

Phoenix, by contrast, turns in a performance so nerve-wracking that it is difficult to watch at times, said Belloni.

The film has an R rating in the United States, meaning those under 17 need to be accompanied by a parent. (REUTERS)


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