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Joker - Ledger or Phoenix?

The release of Todd Philipps’ Joker (2019) gave us a brilliant film that reflects the societal divide between the rich and the poor as well as giving us a gripping story of a man who’s been abandoned by the society he wished to belong to and his subsequent descent to madness. All delivered to us by the stunning performance of Joaquin Phoenix who played as Arthur Fleck in the film. With that said, this film gave us the perfect contender to the late Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the mad clown from The Dark Knight (2008) which is already iconic in its own right.  Although you can argue that comparing these two versions of the Joker is like comparing oranges to apples, the performances of these two great actors were so stunning that the temptation is too strong not to do a contrast and comparison.

For starters, Arthur Fleck was a struggling stand-up comedian who lived with his aging mother and was the one taking care of her. He also had a condition where he would laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate moments. Then, the series of events that happened to him (getting jumped by kids on the street, the loss of his job, the incident on the subway and finally the shattering of his dream to have a real father) drove him to violence and the realization that he can never fit in the society he desperately tried to be a part in. In short, this is a man who was a victim but whose resulting convictions and his actions make you not want to sympathize with. His removal on the medication did not help either.  On the other hand, we have Ledger’s Joker, a character whose violence knows no rhyme or reason.  Unlike Phoenix’s Joker, he is a political character in the sense that he wanted to make an assertion that all the politeness people pretend to show each other and all the trappings of civilization if stripped down to bare, will reveal that humans are actually evil. This is a philosophical and in a way political statement as well. In the end, his theory was proven wrong and his bottom was handed over to him by no less than Batman himself.

So, on one corner we have a Joker who was left to contend with the demons both inside him and the demons of his society and on the other a Joker who is a demon himself, devoid of a backstory, but is certain of his need to watch the whole world burn. Either way, both Jokers are in excellent films so they both give an entertaining if not a thought-provoking experience.

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