Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the the Joker is unlike any other performance of the character, according to WGBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen. The film simply titled “Joker” seeks to explore how one of Batman’s most iconic villains came to be, and places the action in a crime-infested version of Gotham inspired by 1980s New York City.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a struggling stand-up comedian who eventually becomes the eponymous Joker. Bowen said that while the film can be incredibly disturbing and difficult at moments, he found Phoenix’s portrayal complex and fascinating.

“Really he is chief among the disenfranchised. We see how he’s bullied and abused throughout his life, and then he gets a taste of what it’s like to seek vengeance,” Bowen said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Wednesday. “I thought Joaquin Phoenix was absolutely mesmerizing here. A really, really riveting but profoundly disturbing performance at the same time.”

“Joker” has already attracted a significant amount of controversy. Some are worried that the film’s disturbing plot and portrayal of unhinged violence may inspire copy-cat crimes. Though Bowen said he himself was put on the edge of its seat, he wondered if part of the film’s disturbing nature was because of how closely it can relate to modern day America.

“Really this is something that I think holds, as art often does, a mirror up to society, and here it so deeply reflects our ugliest selves.”