“Joker” leaves moviegoers uncertain, spurs controversy

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)

By: Jack Sorenson | Head Editor

October 25, 2019

October 4, 2019, marked the release of Joker, a movie that has spurred both controversy and intrigue. Boasting a $96 million dollar opening weekend – a record for an October premiere – the movie has had no trouble moving tickets, even if it has been subject to mixed reviews. Nearing the end of its first month in theaters, millions have made their way to see the film, but many did not have the experience that they were expecting to.

Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill outcast who is stuck working odd jobs as a clown while attempting to find a career in comedy. Arthur begins the film as a soft-spoken and gentle man who just wants to make people laugh. However, the dark and dilapidated Gotham City eventually breaks him down. 

“I felt bad for the joker at the beginning, but then you see his true criminal character come out towards the end of the movie,” senior Trey Benedict said. As people make fun of and attack Arthur because of his strangeness, he is driven into a dark spiral which culminates in his rebirth as “Joker.”

Joker was a vastly different theater experience than a normal movie,” Benedict said. “It was also pretty creepy. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a friend for that reason.” Todd Phillips, the director of the movie, took a unique approach to the creation of what he calls an “anti-superhero film.” Although Joker takes its inspiration and setting from the classic Batman villain, it does little else in the way of playing to the source material.

“Joker” Theatrical Release Poster (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Joaquin Phoenix is the first actor to play a joker character that has an established backstory, as comics and movies have largely stuck to the tradition of leaving the villain as an ambiguous, motive-less figure. Bruce Wayne and other Batman staples are brought in briefly as a kind of nod to the original stories, but Joker takes its own path in creating a world that can be seen with and without fantasy elements. In doing so, Phillips and Phoenix craft an unapologetically gritty film that is unlike any of its comic book contemporaries.

Although the dark nature of the movie is certainly a different take on the comic book movie genre, some have found it jarring and unexpected. “It was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen,” senior Jack Martin said. “But it was hard to watch 90% of the time.” Martin’s sentiments are not alone, as the movie received both praise and backlash after its release—for a variety of reasons.

 A common criticism is that the depiction of a mentally ill person resorting to violence as a means of revenge hits “too close to home,” and isn’t something that should be shown in theaters. Meanwhile, others have argued the realism that makes the movie so terrifying serves as a meaningful commentary on the way society perceives mental illness. Regardless, the movie has been the topic of an unprecedented amount of media attention and online debate.

Joker is certainly not an easy movie to watch. Intense depictions of insanity and brutal violence are just a few of the aspects comprising the general uneasiness of the story, which is only heightened by brilliant acting and directing. Whether the movie is a masterful piece of art or a senseless portrayal of a deranged person depends on the viewer, but one thing is for certain: Joker is a film unlike any that has come before it. In a time where it seems like every other movie is a remake or a sequel, Joker challenges the norm in its subject matter, presentation, and in the dialogue it has created among its viewers.

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