I couldn’t agree less with critics who say that Joker is empty, shallow, or can’t get enough of itself.
Joker explores the world of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). “Down-and-out” doesn’t begin to describe Arthur’s bleak world. He makes his living as a clown for hire against the dingy backdrop of Gotham, where a sanitation workers’ strike leaves heaps of garbage rotting in the streets.
This is the origin story of the Joker, the villain in the Batman universe that is the antithesis of the comic book evil clown we are used to.
Instead, Joker is a hyper-realistic portrayal of a human being experiencing intense emotional suffering, really the worst that life can dole out. The human cruelty inflicted upon the Joker is shocking. At one point he pleads to be shown a shred of human decency, and he’s deprived of it.
I wanted to see this movie because I see my blog as a resource for parents trying to decide if a movie is right for their child. Joker is an extreme case because the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued warnings that the movie could inspire violence. Concerned moviegoers recalled the horrific shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado, during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
I don’t believe that it will. Unlike 13 Reasons Why, Joker is clearly a larger-than-life period piece set in a different time and in a fictitious city. I don’t think it will inspire violence any more than any other violent Hollywood movie. I think that the cruelty that individuals experience IRL on a regular basis, especially the relentless bullying, is much more likely to inspire it.
It’s controversial that Arthur has mental illness. I get that people are upset about that. Of course just because someone has mental illness doesn’t at all mean that they are violent. But if you are wondering how a young man could be driven to an act of mass violence, I think the movie perfectly captures how it can happen.
Joker is trying to do something powerful. It is trying to get us to pay attention to the men, particularly the young men, who are completely alone. Because it’s set in the 1970s, Arthur doesn’t even have to contend with social media, but our young men do. How do these young men get driven to such a mental state that they can commit heinous acts?
Joker reveals some of the key ingredients: he was horribly abused as a child. The mental health care system fails him miserably. Aurthur stops taking his medication. He’s bullied and shamed relentlessly. He’s more and more isolated. He loses his job and his place in society. But the biggest two are these: no one listens to him, and no one is kind.
Hopefully, we will pay attention to this crisis in our society. Because it is such an iconic character, I think it’s an incredible opportunity for a spotlight, a magnifying glass even, on this shocking and heartbreaking problem.
I would ordinarily suggest that the movie is best suited for age 16 and up, but if you have a very mature teen, then it could be an opening for some very deep and important conversations.