Does Joker Deliver Character Analysis or Violent Psychopath Sympathy?
(SPOILERS: I encourage everyone to see this film for themselves and form their own opinions on it.)
Todd Phillips’ latest film Joker was easily the most anticipated and apprehensive release of this year. Many claim that this movie runs a high risk of inciting violence, or that this was a poignant take on societal oppression of “outsiders”; either way, this controversial film was a very refreshing take on the Clown Prince of Crime.
On its surface, this film tells the story of failed comedian Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man trying to spread happiness in a grim world while also finding some for himself. As the plot progresses and he endures increasingly traumatic experiences, he delves further into madness until he becomes the well-known monster of the Batman franchise. It paints a picture of how the villain is created, and how external factors can affect the uglier aspects of the human condition.
Outside of Arthur’s personal story, the setting is in the fictional city of Gotham in the midst of a tense social and political climate. Greedy, insincere politicians pander promises of salvation for the poor and angry citizens. Sound familiar?
This is the biggest reason mainstream media was up in arms about the film. A white male with “loner” tendencies encourages a wave of followers to commit violent acts of extremism? That hits too close to home in 2019 America, and it obviously raises concern that a movie like that should even be released lest it incites similar stunts. This film could easily be twisted into a cinematographic bible for any radical “misunderstood” people to cling to.
While this is the biggest problem most have with the film, there are certainly other negative things to comment on. The writing of Arthur’s mental illness is rigidly seen from a neurotypical standpoint; his scrawls of inappropriate and suicidal drawings in his therapy notebook, the “uncontrollable laughter,” and a long list of unnamed prescription pills are all unrealistic yet popularized aspects of “violent” mental illness.
Despite this, the film is brutal, bold, and devastating. The cinematography, editing, and score is incredible, and Joaquin Phoenix delivers an unforgettably grotesque performance. While the timing of the societal commentary is rightly criticized, this film was a very imaginative perspective on the classic comic book villain.