In the past six years, DC Comics has released films, that go against the grain of the comic book universe, in which audiences are accustomed to. Release after release, DC and Warner Brothers have been faced with countless (pointless) controversies that are still being discussed today. With the release of the Joker, the discourse surrounding it has reached new levels of ignorance and bias.
The first form of controversy came directly from CNN and other news sources claiming that there would be an uprising after the release of Joker. They continued to spread paranoia across the United States, by warning people that there could be a possible shooting at any of the screenings. They carried this narrative out because of the violence that is depicted by a villain in his own standalone.
This is the same argument that has been plaguing single shooter video games, such as Call of Duty. Media does not influence anyone to kill, the access to weapons does. The media continues to blame art and media in different mediums, rather than blaming their own corrupt system. As opening weekend for the Joker approached, undercover cops and extra security were placed at multiple screenings across the country for Joker. This narrative was completely forced by the media, it was almost as if they wanted this particular narrative to unfold, AGAIN, in order to fit their narrative of blaming the media for the violence in their country. There were even extra security guards placed in theatres in Canada and statistically, Canada does not have the same gun violence percentage as the United States.
The fictional character of the Joker has been a staple in pop culture for decades, so why are people finding an issue with him now? There have been multiple films that included violence, from John Wick to Rambo: Last Blood and every basic action movie in between. The controversy behind the Joker, lies with it being a DC character. With the rise of formulaic action films or comforting live action remakes, audiences are not used to a different moviegoing experience, especially ones that don’t leave you feeling all warm and toasty inside.
DC has and always will be the dark knight of the live action comic book universe, but they are the only ones putting out humanistic stories for audiences to reflect on. Man of Steel was a symbolic immigrant story, Batman v Superman was about unity over differences, Wonder Woman displayed love for humanity, Aquaman showcased power struggles between land and sea, Shazam showcased bullying and Joker depicted the treatment of those who suffer with mental illnesses in the most raw and brutal form we could have ever imagined.
The reason why audiences are turned off by Joker, is because they feel disgusted with how society treats people. Joker puts everyone who has every treated someone horribly at the forefront because of how Arthur Fleck’s internal pain fills the screen. People will constantly treat others poorly but they will never know how much their cruel acts truly affect them. People do not walk out of the Joker feeling uncomfortable from the violence, they are uncomfortable with the treatment of Arthur Fleck, or how terrible the world can be. No one sympathizes with the killing aspect of the Joker, the film showcases the mind of someone who has been so traumatized and feels so much pain because the world has treated him unfairly.
The lesson in Todd Phillips’ Joker is to be kind to everyone because they could be going through anything. That’s the real tragedy of life in general, no one considers their fellow person, it’s always for personal gain. There are moments in the Joker that are very emotional or even frustrating to sit through because of Arthur’s condition. It’s hard to watch him lose himself and come to terms with the fact that his whole life was a lie. He takes his suffering and transforms into this character of the Joker, he feels safer putting on the facade of a clown because clowns are unpredictable.
Lastly, since the Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and has been getting major Oscar buzz, Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for Best Actor and articles like these will not and SHOULD not stop him for getting the Oscar gold. Headlines such as these are laughable for multiple reasons. The headline on the right, does not match the article whatsoever because it resorts to clickbait. How have we gotten to the point where a film that amasses such success does not deserve the box office revenue that it receives? There have been many films that have not been good, and still made billions of dollars, but I didn’t see an article questioning the success of those films. Unfortunately, it has become a thing to piggyback off of controversies in order to gain clicks without having anything beneficial to add to the film and its process after it’s released.
As we head into Oscar season, the Joker has every right to be nominated because it changes a genre that has gotten very tiresome in the past 11 years. Todd Phillips truly changed the game and no matter the controversy, Joker belongs in the race. If we take away Joaquin’s brilliant performance, we are still left with unique direction, a haunting score, stunning cinematography, an in depth character piece, many references and nostalgia, many social issues being brought to the forefront, and a well rounded film overall. Joker will most definitely be nominated, not only for the reasons stated above BUT because the Oscar telecast hasn’t been doing well and they have been gaining viewers due to relevant films with the 18-34 demographic AND of course, the magic word, controversy.
The Joker is a film that demands to be seen and the message is booming throughout. People are afraid to feel terrible after a film because it’s a reflection on their own behaviour and how society actual treats people. It’s raw, realistic and a painful watch but it is definitely necessary.