Is ‘Joker’ Too Dark and Real?

The Joker is one of Batman’s most iconic supervillains. Everything from his anarchist ideologies and his maniacal laugh to his chaotic, brutal acts of violence scream insanity. When the news surfaced that The Joker would be getting his own solo film, audiences were as terrified as they were excited.

The film attracted a lot of controversy before it even hit theaters. Critics accused the film of glorifying violence and justifying the acts of real-life violent criminals. However, Joker is the furthest from the first movie to be centered around a villain or an antihero. So, why is Joker attracting so much negative attention? Could the movie be simply too violent and visceral for its time?

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix | Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

What is ‘Joker’ about?

A failed comedian named Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, wanders Gotham City in search of some sort of connection and purpose. During the day, he works as a clown, but while he’s off the clock, he struggles to find his place in a society that continues to bully, ridicule, and reject him. Joker follows Fleck’s descent into insanity and his evolution into criminal mastermind The Joker.

The film also stars Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy.

Critics of Joker fear that portraying such a maniacally evil character in a sympathetic light will inspire acts of violence in real life. Before the film was released, it was boycotted by the families of mass shooting victims who were afraid that the film’s theatrical release would inspire violence and copycat murders.

One of the largest criticisms that Joker has received from critics and audiences is that the film appears to use society as an excuse for people to commit terrible acts.

“In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week. And yet we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn’t had enough love,” wrote Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine film critic.

In an interview with Variety, Joker co-star Beetz weighed in on the issue:

“It’s kind of an empathy toward isolation and an empathy towards what is our duty as a society to address people who slip through the cracks in a way. There is a lot of culture of that right now, said Beetz, “So is it empathy for that or just an observation on personalities who struggle?”

Joaquin Phoenix did not respond well to criticism of ‘Joker’

In an interview that went viral, The Telegraph film critic Robbin Collin goes on to ask Joaquin Phoenix whether or not he thinks that Joker will incite violence among fans.

Frustrated, Phoenix replied, “Why? Why would you…? No, no,” before storming off set.

Phoenix did not return to the interview set for another hour, spending the time talking with a Warner Bros. press agent. When Phoenix returned to continue the interview with Collin, he admitted that the question caught him off guard and refrained from answering or even referencing the question for the remainder of the interview.

Joker is not Phoenix’s first encounter with extremely violent films. In his recent movie, You Were Never Really Here, Phoenix plays a traumatized veteran who will stop at nothing to save a missing teenage girl, even if it means committing a few violent atrocities along the way.

How did fans react to ‘Joker’?

After the film’s initial theatrical release on Oct. 4, 2019, it was met with adoration by fans. “Joker was amazing. Give #JoaquinPhoenix the Oscar and give it to him now. Disturbing, dark, unsettling, extraordinary and brilliant. #JokerMovie,” wrote one Twitter user. Audiences praised Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, comparing the film to Taxi Driver.

“Speechless. Disturbed. Uncomfortable. Completely blown-away at a movie at first I didn’t even want but now I’m glad DC made. It was relentlessly dark, but very powerful. The beauty of it is it will be divisive. Joaquin Phoenix deserves an Oscar nod,” wrote one Twitter user.

Despite the controversy surrounding Joker, audiences seem to agree that Joaquin Phoenix’s acting and Todd Phillips’ directing were no laughing matter.