Todd Phillip’s Joker, a film that separates the most iconic comic book villain in history from his counterpart, Batman, to focus on the psyche of the man behind the face paint, hit cinemas on 4th October worldwide. After an 8-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, where it also received the award of best film, the film started to generate obscene amounts of hype, to the point where you couldn’t avoid a single advert or poster.
However, not everyone is pleased to see the clown prince of crime back on the big screen. With the majority of these reactions coming over from America, audiences and critics have been asking the question of whether Joker is a ‘safe film’. Survivors of the 2012 mass shooting in Colorado at the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises have, understandably so, been criticising the film’s release. Leading up to the release, some cinemas banned clown costumes at the premiere for the film, whilst The New York Film Festival had a more noticeable police presence, most likely in response to the film. The U.S. military were briefed about potential violence at screenings, and some screenings have been cancelled altogether after “credible threats.”
So, why all the uproar and hysteria? This question can be traced back to the portrayal of the character, combined with the internet culture we find ourselves living in today. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, the man who would become Joker, an aspiring stand up comedian who still lives with his mother and struggles to hold down a job as a clown. The most prominent line from the trailers, “I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realise, it’s a comedy” might resonate with some impressionable individuals who might, and I’m using the word might very carefully here, take his words and actions too seriously. We live in a world where internet trolls possess a lot of power. So much so that the words they type on public message boards, or on Facebook, Reddit or Twitter become that of a terrorist manifesto. Cast your minds back to 1971, and something similar can be said with the release of A Clockwork Orange, a film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel written by Anthony Burgess. Kubrick himself insisted that the film be removed from circulation in 1973, in response to the police reporting that a number of crimes were committed in the name of the film, with impressionable men assaulting women and committing violent crimes.
Joker has seemed to reignite the debate about whether these films should exist in the first place. Phoenix has defended the film’s existence, stating “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right and wrong… If you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance… I think they can find fuel anywhere… you don’t know what is going to be the fuel for somebody.” This of course can be correlated with President Trump’s recent comments that gun violence is a product of violent video games, despite countless studies that refutes this argument. This fear of violence has stemmed from the emergence a group of men who have been titled ‘incels’, short for ‘involuntary celibate’. Their online forums are characterised by sexist, racist and self-loathing comments that center around the common feeling that they are entitled to sex, despite the fact they are all incredibly single. By imposing their prejudiced views on society and receiving inevitable rejection thanks in part to their hateful opinions combined with their sense of entitlement, often this ends in acts of violence. Some examples include mass shootings, and this is what is causing fear in American audiences especially.
Having not seen the film, I cannot fully comment on the matter, but I intend to see Joker soon, so I can fully weigh in on the conversation at hand.
Joker is currently sat at a Certified Fresh 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. Read our review here.
Words by Jacob Fleming