The Joker, a Controversial Film with a Wakeup Message by Emily Schmalstieg
When the Joker opened up last month, movie goers and theater owners alike, were on alert. The film featuring Batman’s comic-book enemy, the Joker, played by Joaquim Phoenix, is a dark, disturbing character portrayal that revolves around a terror-ridden plot. Phoenix plays a mentally ill middle-aged loser who works as a part-time clown, and still lives with his mother in a shabby run-down apartment. Years of childhood abusive, present day bullying ,and violent beatings by thugs drove him to his breaking point and transforms him into an evil villain.
The film brought out controversy, as well as praise, after winning awards at the French Film Festival and is still sparking debates with its dark story and violence theme in today’s critics’ corner. Critics and media reporters feel the film could promote violence because of the connection to the Joker character in the 2012 film “Dark Knight Rises” and the shooting that took the lives of many moviegoers at its filming at the Cinemark Aurora theater in Denver.
But after weeks of the media blowing up the event, cautioning people to be careful if you dared to attend the film’s opening night, the film opened with success and with no violent acts. Opening weekend, it broke the October box office record of 935 million. The movie since has become the top grossing comic book movie ever.
I was one of the moviegoers that attended opening night and I have to admit after hearing the Today Show’s warnings earlier that day, I honestly hesitated on buying a ticket. But after considering the news media source and their love for hype and made up news, I concluded it was probably okay to go to the opening. Once in the movie seat, I wish I could say I forgot my fear, but I found my eyes straying to the young man sitting next to me as he searched his coat pocket for I don’t know what, and my mind ran back to the stories of the Colorado shooting. I thought “What would I do if he pulled out a gun?” My fears disappeared as the movie came on. The fear I felt, as well as the fears of other, I’m sure, was the product of our media today. A lot of hype about the dangers of seeing the film came from the news media’s need for thrills and our real fear brought out by the multiple shootings that haunt our conscious in today’s world. Many critics felt The Joker supported violence that could evolve to the real outside world from the fictional movie realm. Warner Bros came back and defended the film saying the film did not support violence. In a statement to the media, Warner Bros said “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers, or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
In this review, let me make something clear, this film is not your common comic book movie to take your child to. It is a sinister and dark origin movie showing how a pathetic mentally ill man turns into the psychopathic killer and the arch enemy of Batman. It is not a family film or a movie for the fainthearted. Some of the killing scenes of this R + rated film could have come straight out of a Quentin Tarantino script.
Even though its violence is overly graphic, I personally feel the film is a well-crafted film featuring outstanding acting and scenic filming. It is a good character film, but not the all-time “movie of the year” sort, though writer/director Todd Phillips achieves outstanding action and tone with use of artistic and classic film techniques. Overall,The Joker is an average movie, definitely worth seeing, but not the academy trophy winner for 2020. But unarguably Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is a Five Star Academy Award performance. His depiction of the Joker is terrific and unsettling in its reality. Phoenix stated he chose to study real mentally ill patients in psychiatric hospitals, instead of the comic book characters from other films in developing his character so he could achieve mastery. To play his character convincingly, he lost a lot of weight to transform his body into a frail sickly frame of a man. His uncontrollable spin chilling laughter and nervous restlessness mimic the actions of real live mentally ill patients with unbelievable accuracy, making his character more than just an evil comic villain in a fictional film, but a representation of a frightening mentally sick person of today’s world that could be your next-door neighbor.
The movie as the director states is an origin movie for the Joker. His evolution into the dark side and society’s role in his creation, is what makes this film such a dark and troubling, but brilliant art form with an important message for the world.
A quick review of the plot shows the Joker, Arthur Fleek, as a part-time clown that has mental illness that he controls by taking medicine and attending weekly appointments with a psychologist. Because of the city’s budget cutbacks, his paid doctor visits and medicines are canceled. We watch as he is heartlessly beat up on the streets by thugs and made fun of by rich bullies on the subway. His friend gives him a gun to protect himself and when it falls out of his pocket at a comedy gig at the children’s hospital, he is fired. We find out his mother who also is mentally ill, did nothing to stop his beatings as a child by an abusive stepfather. When he can’t control his hysterical laughing at a comedy show and a famous comedian makes fun of him, the crowds strangely are entertained by his freakiness. The comedian played by Robert DeNiro asks him on his show to get ratings, and the Joker now without hesitation shoots him dead on live TV. The scariest thing is his lack of feeling earlier when he smothers his mom to death. But even more frightening is the crowd’s reaction to his killings-they wear clown masks, supporting his actions like he is a hero of sorts for the poor working class. They free him from the police car and glorify him through violence and riots. Yes, it is a sick world in Gothic City.
Even though the scenes are graphically disturbing, I do not believe that the movie should be condemned by the righteous sect and critics of our society. It is the American public and politicians that should be condemned for the denial of the seriousness of mental illness that looms over our citizens and youth. This problem is a national problem that needs to be addressed today by society. The movie simply uncovers and makes us look at our indifference to the problem. Our society hides from and denies the complexities and complications surrounding mental illness. The bullying, abusiveness, and the neglect that can contribute to mental illnesses threatens our values, security and safety in this country. It’s not any one movie that creates a killer, it’s our whole society’s lack of recognition. concern ,and irresponsibility toward guns and mental illmess.To me this movie has a wakeup message in its fictional story. The Joker is a movie art form, not a propaganda movie for killers. Exiting the theater one senses a vacant feeling that something is amiss and not resolved. This lack of resolution in this film reminds us of our uncertainty of our world. The end is meant to reside because the Joker is an origin film and the story has just begun in more than one way. If you have the chance to see this movie, The Joker is a film that is worth watching and thinking about.