Ever since The Joker first premiered at the Venice Film Festival, it has been surrounded by a cloud of controversy. Starring Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix, the film is centered around the failed comedian, Arthur Fleck, who wanders the streets of Gotham City. Isolated and bullied by society, Fleck slowly morphs into the iconic villain, the Joker. The film was released on Friday, October 4th, marching to financial success and praise. However, the film’s portrayal of a murderous psychopath who embraces chaos has raised concerns about what the film might incite.
Bringing forth a newer, darker, and grittier reality to the comic book character, The Joker demonstrates how a sad party clown can be pushed to the edge and transformed into a king of terror. Suffering from a condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably at ill-timed moments, Fleck is treated as a human heavy bag his whole life. Suffering one final injustice by 3 Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s company) employees, Fleck finally snaps, kills all three of them, and finds the joy in that power. After that, he folds into his delusional psyche and adopts the face of the Joker. In most origin stories, the audience can sympathize with the protagonist. For example, Bruce Wayne and his murdered parents, or Superman and his decimated planet. The audience can feel and relate to the hero. But in the Joker, the movie instead paints the Fleck as a man worthy of compassion. Presenting Fleck as the protagonist, does the film cater to the incel crowd? His whole life, he has gotten the short end of the stick, and that’s what worries people about this film. In an era of mass shootings, is it really the best idea to glorify such a character? Real people who feel cast aside by society, isolated, and bullied may look up to Joker as a hero and may use violence as a way of revenge.
Even before it’s premiere, the US Army issued warnings of possible extremist incels carrying out mass shootings at local theaters. In an Army memo marked “For official use only”, it advised service members to identify “two escape routes” and to “run, hide, fight” in the event of a shooting. To add to the chilling warnings, officials from the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division received intelligence from Texas law enforcement concerning “disturbing and very specific chatter” on the Dark Web about “the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.” Fortunately, there have been no mass shootings since the release of the movie apart from minor disturbances resulting in arrest and no injuries.
So should you be worried to watch it? Well, that depends on your experiences. For families in Aurora, Colorado who experienced a theater shooting during a screening of Dark Knight Rises, it’s very reasonable for them to ask Warner Bros to not show the movie. But theme and meaning aside, the Joker is still an Oscar-worthy movie. Critics are raving about Joaquin Phoenix's electrifying performance, the incredible cinematography, and the honest take on the way society addresses mental illness. Is it a movie that promotes outcasts to act out in violence, or is it simply a new darker take on the Joker? Watch it for yourself, and you can decide what kind of movie it is.