Joker Film is a Win at the Box Office Despite Controversy

The following editorial is the viewpoint of the writers only and does not reflect the opinions of the Cat’s Eye View staff, as a whole, or the administration, faculty or students of Henry P. Becton Regional High School


JOKER and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The hit thriller of the fall, “Joker”, sparked major controversy regarding violence and its triggers during its release on October 4. The film, directed by Todd Phillips, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic Batman villain in this fifth live-action remake of the Joker story. This story follows Arthur Fleck, a comedian who is beaten down by society. Part of this explains his descent into madness, but that is not the whole story. Fleck is also someone battling a mental illness, an abused child, a struggling adult, and a lonely man. There is no fall into acid or blade taken to his mouth to transform him into the villain we know. Instead, it is simply Phoenix’s performance which defines an unmistakable Joker.

 The movie does not waste any time giving the criminal unexpected humanity by making the audience feel empathy for him right from the beginning. The film begins with Fleck getting jumped by neighborhood kids while flipping a “going out of business” sign for a store. All of this happens while he is embarrassingly dressed as a clown, his only means of making money. Next, during the bus ride home, he tries to entertain a small boy with silly faces and laughter, but his mother becomes incensed. This makes Arthur uncomfortable and causes his “medical” condition, his maniacal laugh. Flick provides a card explaining the condition to both her and the audience. 

After learning he got jumped, Arthur’s colleague, Randall, gives him a gun to protect himself, this leads to an unfortunate incident at a children’s hospital. However, with all of these tragic moments, Joker is not without romance and comedy. Flick starts up a relationship with his neighbor, Sophie and works as a stand-up comedian. Only he doesn’t get the joke. Neither his relationship or his comedy career work out the way you’d expect. Eventually, when nothing seems to be going right for Arthur, he is bullied on the subway by three drunk businessman. When Arthur inevitable commits his first violent act, he runs into a bathroom afterward. Not to hide, or cry, or even laugh, but to dance. A slow, surreal, modern dance. It is one of the many strangely beautiful moments in the film. Joker is not like any superhero film you have seen before, it is not a blockbuster by any means, it is clearly an independent film and before you see it, you need to set yourself up for that expectation. 

The audience is meant to feel for Arthur. Even though we know he will become the villain and is in some ways the villain of his own story, it is not until he embraces his violent tendencies that he becomes confident and to the many downtrodden people of Gotham City, a hero. This is where the controversy surrounding the film comes from. We aren’t supposed to feel sorry for murderers. Amid the controversy, there are several different ways this movie could be perceived, one of them attributing his villainy to the society he lived in. Its bullying and isolation of Arthur from the rest of the town he lived in can be seen as the sole cause of his downward spiral. An example being when Arthur’s access to a therapist was denied due to budget-cuts and he had no other source of help. He was disregarded by society numerous times. On the other side of the spectrum, maybe it was not society, but his own failings and those of his mother. After all, Arthur clearly chooses to act on his negative thoughts. 

Joker displays complex ideas, and as a result, demands complex emotions from its audience. Arthur says it himself, “I used to think my life was a tragedy, now I know it is a comedy”. It is this overlap that stirs the passions of both fans and critics.  

Joker is in theatres now. At the time of publishing, Joker has earned over 208 million at the domestic box office. Joker is rated R, so underclassmen will need to attend the theatre with a parent or guardian. Parental discretion is greatly advised. Joker is directed by Todd Philips, written by Phillips and Scott Silver and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Brett Cullen with cinematography by Lawrence Sher and Music by Hildur Guðnadóttir.