Everyone seems to have an opinion after watching this film for themselves. The hype and discussion following the Venice Film Festival contributed to the biggest October opening of all time at $93.5 million. After seeing “Joker” for myself, I was left wondering why it became engulfed in controversy in the first place.
In the movie, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) plays a mentally ill man whose condition causes him to laugh uncontrollably, often at the wrong moments. Told by his mother that he is meant to spread joy to the world, Arthur pursues his dream of becoming a comedian, but there’s one problem: he is not funny. As a result, he is often treated like a doormat by those living more fortunately than he is. We watch as he is beaten by thieving kids, treated unkindly by those around him, made fun of by his role model, rejected by a woman he is interested in, abandoned by his father and betrayed by his mother. As these events unfold, we see Arthur progress from a troubled man to a murderous anarchist.
The thing is, I actually sympathized with him for the first half of the movie – and many others did too. In fact, it is this exact sentiment that summarizes the entire controversy over “Joker.” What message is being conveyed by presenting a murderer as the victim? Could “Joker” inspire a wave of violence as it did in the movie? Did we really need a film about a clown murdering countless people in today’s climate?
What I think wasn’t understood by some audiences is that this is the Joker’s story. He has always been a controversial character with a controversial story. Creating a compelling movie requires that his contentious journey to anarchism be told. Any frustration towards this film is an issue with the Joker character himself.
“Joker” needs to be taken for what it is: a movie. What we should be talking about is Phoenix’s astounding performance that has shown itself to be worthy of an Oscar and the cinematography that was of the highest caliber. Instead, the elements of this stellar movie have been overshadowed by this drama that has been blown out of proportion.
All of the dissention that has resulted from this film is because of a possible message of the movie, but how can that be when interpretation is subjective? Warner Bros made the following statement: “Make no mistake: 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.” Yes, the film was meant to be rooted in the real-world, but it was not meant to hold Joker as a hero or to incite violence. It is simply a work of fiction meant to tell the story of a character that has been around for a while in a way that is more based in reality.
In fact, showing how cruel society can be sent me a different message: be kind. Phoenix’s character is treated inhumanely and unfairly again and again in this movie. While he was already troubled, these heinous acts did not help at all. Compare this to today. Not everyone in this world is evil, and perhaps if we showed more kindness to others, heinous acts would lessen.
I understand that kindness is not enough. Trials and misfortunes in life are inevitable. That’s why mental illness cannot be taken lightly and gun control needs to be taken seriously. My heart breaks for those affected by today’s acts of atrocious violence, but I just don’t think placing the blame on a work of fiction will make any difference. Improving the concerns in our society is much more effective than avoiding the creation of movies that may be dark. Let’s provide funding for mental health institutions. Let’s keep guns out of troubled individual’s hands. Let’s improve ourselves.
Instead of looking at Joker” as inspiration for an individual in a tragic place, look at it as a warning aimed at preventing more violence and a wake up call to improve our world. We cannot place the blame for problems in our society on movies. Rather, we should hold up a mirror to ourselves and take a look at what we see.
Written: Caitlyn Khan
Photo: H. Rivera