Joaquin Phoenix has been making the press rounds to promote Joker, where he plays the role of Arthur Fleck, the man who eventually turns into the villain. The film does not hit theaters until Oct. 4, but it’s already a hot topic of debate among critics who’ve seen it and those who have only seen the trailer.
After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and a successful run at the Toronto International Film Festival, Joker—and Phoenix—are the center of cinematic attention.
But a combination of stellar performances, mixed reviews, and concerns over the film’s content are fueling questions ahead of the Joker debut, and Phoenix isn’t ready to answer all of them.
Why the film is causing so much controversy
Ahead of its release, Joker has been the subject of a number of professional reviews, and while Phoenix’s performance is being praised as one of his best, the movie is stoking concerns.
Specifically, it’s gritty, violent, and depicts Arthur Fleck as a mentally ill man with an unhinged, lone wolf mentality. But what gets him there?
Some of these early reviews say that the film sends a disturbing message about terrorism. Phoenix’s Fleck lives with his ailing mother, has a condition that causes unprompted bouts of laughter, and is a struggling stand-up comedian. He gets bullied and insulted until he snaps.
He snaps with mass murder, kidnapping, and other twisted acts, and it’s this depiction that is causing controversy. By painting the picture that his character deserves sympathy for his tragic life, the world of Joker justifies the rage of this man looking to even the score with violence and bloodshed.
Phoenix walks out of an interview, and things get awkward
Sitting down for a chat with TheTelegraph, Phoenix was asked about Joker’s violent leanings. Thewriter asked,“Aren’t youworried that this film might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind ofpeople it’s about, with potentially tragic results?”
According tothe article, Phoenix replied, “Why? Why would you…? No… no.” before shakinghands with his interviewer and walking out of the room. He then made some callsand at the urging of the Warner Bros. PR team, returned to the room one hourlater.
He wasn’t angry. He admitted he just wasn’t prepared to answer such a question intelligently.
It caught him off guard and he wasn’t sure how to respond without offending someone. Phoenix added that when he studies a character, he wants to understand their motivations in a movie, and that was the challenge awaiting him with this role. That’s all.
Some of the reviews are influencing perception in media and with the public
According to a review by Richard Lawson for VanityFair, the film is exhilarating and has style, but “It also may beirresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.”
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich also praised the movie for its originality and reinvention of the superhero genre, but states that Todd Phillips’ Joker script is written to:
“… Speak to the people in our world who are predisposed to think of Arthur as a role model: lonely, creatively impotent white men who are drawn to hateful ideologies because of the angry communities that foment around them.”
Vox writer AlissaWilkinson notes that the film unsurprisingly turns Joker into who he’s alwaysbeen—evil, sadistic, and amoral—but with an extra shot of depravity. Fleckgoing from sad and defeated to master of chaos tips the scale for him and the societyin which he lives.
She writes, “Essentially, the movie says, he is bullied into mass murder, beset by a merciless society that he must eventually rally against.”
It’s already a known fact that Joker is not based anyversion of the sinister clown found in DC Comics, and the movie—set in the ‘80s—isits own origin story. Will Joker inspire an element of our society tocarry out dastardly and despicable acts? No one has an answer for that, noteven Joaquin Phoenix.
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