With the release of Todd Phillips’ highly anticipated Joker this month, critics and the fan community have been musing over what is being discussed as the dangers of the film and the titular character’s portrayal, whether they’ve seen the movie or not. The $55 million film about the rise of Batman’s arch nemesis, has forced Landmark Theatres, the country’s largest independent cinema chain, to place a ban not only on face masks and toy weapons, but a ban on any costumes whatsoever. The film will not be shown at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater where, in 2012, a mass shooting occurred during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
The main conversation posits that a film about a deranged man whose mental breakdown leads to deadly violence could be unintentionally portraying the Joker as a heroic/inspirational figure. Others have also had a very different interpretation of the film. As Jim Vejvoda wrote in his 10 out of 10 review for IGN.com, “Joker the film may ask viewers to empathize with its central protagonist but it doesn’t ask us to forgive him for his increasingly evil choices. As many real-world parallels and inspirations can be uncomfortably drawn from [the Joker]’s descent into madness, the film still knows he’s deranged and not to be romanticized – merely understood.”
Critics who have seen the film have raised numerous concerns in online conversations, with some calling the film dangerous, or expressing the fear that it could inspire
more violence in an era where mass shootings are so prevalent. In light of these ongoing critiques/concerns about the film, both star Joaquin Phoenix and director Todd Phillips were asked about their thoughts on the matter during interviews with critics.
Phoenix responded, stating, “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality/the difference between right and wrong. To me, I think [it]’s obvious [that] if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. The truth is, you don’t know what is going to be the fuel for somebody…, but you can’t function in life saying, ‘I can’t ask that question for the small chance that somebody might be affected by that question.’”
Phillips stated, “There have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven’t even seen the movie and they don’t need to. I would just argue that you might want to watch the movie… with an open mind… because ultimately the movie… makes statements about lack of love, childhood trauma, and lack of compassion in the world, and I think people can handle that message.”
Phoenix went on to say, “It’s uncomfortable for all of us. We all are aware of these issues and [are] concerned, and I think that’s why we talk about it.”
Conversations online about the film have certainly showcased just how subjective film can be as an art form and how people can have many different interpretations of what they see on the screen. They also emphasize, according to many critics, the impactful narrative of Joker and it’s extremely nuanced lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, a favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actor.
Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role of the Joker
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films
By Justin Landsman
Co-Editor in Chief