As the hype around Joker continues to grow, there is a need to critique and deconstruct the film.
In the United States, and specifically New York, movie theatres have been ramping up security. Multiple theatres have stationed armed guards and uniformed police officers outside of screenings of this movie.
This heightened security is due to the memory of the 2012 shooting in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Regardless of the reason, if armed guards are deemed necessary at a movie theatre, maybe the creators should reconsider the message of their film.
Joker’s movie trailers portray Arthur — who later becomes the Joker — as living a life filled with rejection, loneliness and abuse from strangers, implying this to be the reason he turns to violence.
The movie’s problem lies here, in the idea that it is acceptable to turn to violence if you feel you have been mistreated. Hurting others is not a natural or acceptable progression from feeling hurt yourself.
Take men who kill women and girls for rejecting their advances, for example. These men feel entitled to having their advances accepted so rejection is seen as mistreatment and a death-worthy offence. The absolute worst thing this movie could do is validate violence based on those feelings.
The question of who will watch this movie and see themselves in the titular villain also needs to be raised.
Arthur is portrayed as a poor man with severe mental illness and an abusive childhood. This is portrayed — along with his feelings of rejection and isolation — to be the trigger for his violence. But these life circumstances occur more often than most would like to believe. If every poor, mentally ill or abused individual was destined to take the same path as Arthur, no society could be sustained.
When Gotham’s budget is cut, Arthur is left without access to social work or medication. This is a real-life tragedy that happens regularly. But the solution is not and should not be shown to be hurting innocents.
Joaquin Phoenix — who plays the Joker — is an undeniably talented actor, and that is what makes his performance all the more dangerous. We are not supposed to see Arthur as a hero, but we are meant to sympathize with him.
Joker trailers ask audiences to empathize with a man who faced rejection and resorted to violence because he wasn’t able to deal with it. I don’t want to sympathize with angry men who lack the emotional intelligence to deal with their feelings of inadequacy without using violence.
Perhaps the most chilling line of the movie comes in the third act, when Arthur proclaims “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? I’ll tell you what you get. You get what you fucking deserve!” before shooting a man in the head on live television.
This type of rhetoric already exists and it has cost women their lives. Adding more of this into the world is irresponsible filmmaking. Even without a political critique, the film itself may be unnecessary. Not every villain needs a tragic backstory. Some are scarier even when they don’t have them.
This unpredictability was part of what made Heath Ledger’s Joker so chilling. Audiences didn’t know what he is going to do next or why he was doing it. He lacked a detailed backstory but not complexity.
There is a clear sense of an awful past, but we are not asked to sympathize with him. He is unquestionably the villain of The Dark Knight, and he is unquestionably terrifying. Ledger’s Joker is complex without asking for pity.
There was a way to write Arthur’s story without asking the audience to sympathize. It is easy to point out the idealization of violent and abusive men in pop culture, from Fight Club’s Tyler Durden to the Harry Potter franchise’s Severus Snape.
Durden is not supposed to be a person that audiences cheer for, but he has become a staple in the mind of violent frat bros everywhere. So what are we supposed to expect when we are asked to sympathize with a mass murderer like the Joker?
From both political and cinephile perspectives, no one asked for this movie. There have been enough incarnations of the Joker, and there have been enough incarnations of subpar men that we are meant to pity.
Amber Adrian Jackson
Photo: Instagram / El_basilyo