The Joker, Batman’s greatest nemesis as many know him, is one of the most misunderstood, yet iconic villains in all of comic books and cinema history. Though many comics and films have tried to encapsulate the Joker’s wicked personality through his evil actions and motives, little is truly known or understood about this character or his past. This is one question that the movie, Joker, releasing on Friday October 4, will answer, delivering a fresh perspective and personal backstory on this famed, mysterious DC Comics character.
Joker, directed and co-written by Todd Philips, first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on Saturday, August 31, and received a plethora of mixed reviews, ranging from critical acclaim of the film to concerns about the potential toxicity of the film on its viewers. Joker, with Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role, follows the life of Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian in the city of Gotham who has a mental illness, which causes him to burst into spontaneous laughter at unfitting moments. Feeling completely isolated and disregarded by society, and unable to find success as a comedian, Arthur’s transition into the ruthless, maniacal mastermind Joker is thoroughly explained in this deeply intimate, dark origin story. The audience gains insight into why Arthur became the Joker and may even sympathize with him, in some grim way, after watching his troubling experiences in this film packed with dark social commentary.
Before release, Joker has already received a ton of publicity, both good and bad, for the story and messages that are conveyed in the film. Though the film had a triumphant start when it won the top award at the Venice Film Festival and garnered mostly positive reviews, the criticisms of the film’s potential messages have raised several protests and concerns of the potential harm of the film on its audience. There have been several, pre-emptive protests from those who haven’t watched the film yet, as many are afraid that the film may incite or encourage violence and the use of guns, as well as discuss topics that may be especially sensitive for certain viewers. However, Philips, Phoenix, and the film’s producing company, Warner Bros., have stated that this should not be a cause for concern, as the movie does not encourage this type of behavior and is rated “R” as it is meant to be watched by a more mature audience.
Warner Bros. issued a response to a worried letter about the film’s content, which said, “Make no mistake: Neither the fictional character Joker nor the film is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind.”
Philips also defended his movie at a recent press conference, sharing that, “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message. To me, art can be complicated and often times art is meant to be complicated.”
Whether or not the movie will do well with audiences remains yet to be seen.