Supervillain film “Joker” ended its first month as the highest grossing R-rated film ever. Hype
leading up to its Oct. 4 release added to the record-breaking success, as well as the
controversy that still has viewers debating it.
Disclaimer: this article contains spoilers. The film centers around mentally ill Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian who is bullied and isolated by society. Fleck turns to violence and later his infamous Joker identity.
Director Todd Philips is best known for writing and directing comedy films such as “The
Hangover” trilogy. “Joker” was an ambitious leap toward darker themes that people have related
to real world violence.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, he admits to his contentious mindset when co-writing the
“Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture,” Phillips said.
Phillips said it is too difficult to write comedy. He gave up on the genre but wanted to continue
to produce irreverent films. He took the comic book movie universe, added irreverence and
created this particular rendition of the Joker’s origin story.
His statement wasn’t overlooked by the public or others in the industry since he implies the
only way to be funny is by offending people.
Knowing Phillips’s intentions of creating popular irreverent prose leads viewers to wonder
whether his story about a mentally ill man is meant to mock. Others were concerned that the
violent film would induce similar behavior outside the theater.
Many were fearful that the movie might encourage more mass shootings. Arthur meets many
demographics and patterns that society associates with past mass shooters. In the film, he
inspires a wave of violence that viewers interpreted as similar to the wave of mass shootings.
The movie theater in which the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, shooting took place refused to show
the film. A midnight screening of “The Dark Knight,” a popular Batman film that introduced the
superhero to the Joker, was playing when the shooting took place.
Families and friends of the 2012 victims wrote to Warner Bros. expressing its right to produce
the film but encouraged the company to get involved in the gun control movement. Warner
Bros. responded in a statement saying gun violence is a critical issue and bringing up the
company’s long history of donating to victims of gun violence.
The focus of the movie is on mental illness and whether society has blame in worsening it.
Debate in the media would have proved more useful had it discussed who takes responsibility
when a mentally unstable individual turns to violence.
Arthur comes from an area that is already on the brink of chaos due to high rates of poverty
and unemployment. Viewers easily pick out the harsh conditions of the trash and rat-infested
city, but most importantly, that the wealthy businessmen run it.
The protagonist kills three corporate workers who abuse him on a subway – symbolizing his
newfound power in chaos against the wealthy.
Controversy on whether Phillips romanticizes murder is more applicable to themes in the film.
The familiarity of a moral protagonist is challenged as Gotham’s community praises the Joker
and creates a heroic image for him despite the chaotic murders.
It suggests Arthur is justified in his actions because he kills the system that was his demise.
Not only his demise, but millions of other impoverished, unemployed, angry individuals who are victimized by the wealthy. He attacks the power that is actively ruining their lives. And for this,
the audience is inclined to applaud.
This and the broken health care system that hurts Gotham City’s citizens are replications of
real-world issues. It is the state that cuts his access to mental health related medication and
therapy. It was the privileged wealthy that landed him and his mother in psychiatric care.
Despite the truth of a cruel society, it is impossible to condone ruthless violence.
Mental illness, childhood trauma and constant societal abuse propels Arthur in this violent
direction. Directors are often criticized for how they portray mental illness, and Phillips was no
exception. It is difficult to accurately represent struggling individuals, especially when they take
a deadly turn. It’s worth noting that Phillips’ interpretation had faults, yet his portrayal was better
than many other films.
“Joker” is a great film willing to tackle murky content with phenomenal acting. However, the
concern over the film being too violent was unwarranted.
Other extremely violent films have been produced and overlooked. The spy films featuring
fictional character James Bond were similarly graphic with an extended number of murders.
“Pulp Fiction” was highly debatable in its 1994 release regarding violence and is now regarded
as an American classic.
Warner Bros. also said “Joker” is not an endorsement of violence, and Phillips came out with
a statement saying the film does not excuse the Joker’s behavior.