“Joker,” much like the character himself, sparks controversy.
After Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s iconic performances (and some lesser ones we won’t name here), the title of the Joker is a lot to live up to. That being said, let’s address the elephant in the room before I dive into the actual review.
Media buzz about whether the movie glorifies and encourages violence has prompted some to deem the movie an irresponsibly made social commentary.
These concerns led to Warner Bros. issuing a formal statement assuring that “neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
It is transparently ignorant to deny that glorification of violence is involved in this movie. The movie depicts massive praise for heinous acts. It shows a man who finds confidence through violence and depicts a man climbing his way to icon status, one body at a time.
But here’s the thing: we’re living in 2019. People are being killed at staggering rates and “Joker” doesn’t reveal anything the news isn’t already telling us. Art that is controversial is still art, regardless of how people take it.
A criminal can claim inspiration from anything and use it as an attempt to justify their actions. People will do exactly what they want to do, regardless of what movies you put out.
That being said, let’s move on to the actual movie.
The first thing I need to get out is how incredible I think Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck (the Joker) is. It was uncomfortable, but it was genuine. Raking the broken bits of a mentally ill man through the dirty, bloody and rat-infested gutters of Gotham City, we saw the worst parts of the character unfittingly propped up as the centerpiece.
I wasn’t going to address this next part, but in the true nature of the movie, let’s make things uncomfortable.
Not to get on a soapbox or pretend I’m just so much more educated or caring than my fellow moviegoers, but I was dumbfounded at how many in the theater laughed at the wrong times. This, for obvious reasons, seems weirdly appropriate for the circumstances, while at the same time being a concrete demonstration of the public’s gross intolerance and ignorance of the nastier parts of mental illness— which is a theme of the movie.
When things got weird and Fleck’s illness shined through, the silence in the movie was cut by scattered laughter throughout the theater. They thought it was being played for a joke.
The inappropriate laughter stopped once Arthur came into his role as the Joker. The more crimes he committed, the more his character warped into an unapologetic murderer, suddenly my fellow audience members weren’t laughing anymore.
There was never a moment of triumph, never the briefest bit of levity in the writhing misery of an unpredictable lead character. The plot wraps up with the viewer feeling just as uneasy as when it began. The laughter ceases and everyone goes home.
In the words of the Joker himself, “there is no punchline.”
The film artfully forces you to confront violence, social unrest and mental illness head on, yet cowers in the face of scrutiny. Phoenix walked out of an interview when asked about real-world implications of the film and director Todd Phillips repeatedly said the film’s depictions of violence were handled “responsibly.”
If there’s a punchline, it’s that the course of this movie was out of their hands the minute it hit the big screen. They’ve created something that I personally feel is a work of art, and now we’re left wondering how deep the gap runs between authorial intent and audience interpretation.
This movie is absolutely worth watching, but very deserving of its R rating. If you can stomach the gore of murder and the metaphorical ick of exploiting difficult subjects, grab a ticket and try to find a punchline for yourself.