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Joker: Just another movie, or a killing joke?

Blake Berry '23 Politics Editor

On Oct. 5, 2019, a new film hit theaters: “Joker.” Fans of the superhero genre should find this iconic name very recognizable. The Joker, a character from DC Comics is a psychopathic killer and common villain of that universe. The general idea of the genre is to have a hero face a villain, and to eventually have the hero come out on top. However, “Joker” is a much different story and places the criminal clown in the spotlight as the hero of the story.


There is one unifying characteristic of the two superhero film giants: Marvel and DC. Marvel movies typically have a more light-hearted and humorous feeling to them, whereas DC films create more of a dark and gritty ambiance. This is a feature taken to the next level in “Joker,” given that it is one of the very few comic book adaptations to obtain an R-rating.


The trailers tease the descent into madness that Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, faces as he slowly becomes his persona of The Joker. Chaos has come to the city of Gotham, and Arthur seems to be pulled deeper into his insanity by expressing himself against the constraints that society imposes on both him and the world at large.


These themes are then greatly extended upon in the movie itself: the audience witnesses different sequences of Arthur creating idealistic relationships with people in his head. He is also seen laughing uncontrollably in times where it’s completely unacceptable as well as brutally murdering a variety of people. “Joker” doesn’t hold back in the slightest when showing how seriously mental illness can affect an individual, especially when it isn’t kept in check. Problematically, we learn early in the movie that Arthur will no longer have access to the medication prescribed to him to keep him sane and safe from other people.


With the R-rating, some of these issues can be expected to grace the silver screen, but some of it just feels off. Personally, I felt like a majority of The Joker’s, or Arthur’s, actions were being glorified as heroic acts that would be the way to save Gotham from its crime plague. And some moviegoers had the very same opinion.


Even before the release of the film, controversy began to fester. The movie’s trailers seemed to announce an interesting, albeit dark movie--something that DC desperately needed after the low interest and negative feedback the franchise received in response to their previous attempts at turning comics into film. However, the closer the release date came, the more people questioned if it was socially and morally acceptable to even show. On the opposing side, there were multiple attempts to stop the release of “Joker,” petitions being signed by thousands in order to keep the movie from reaching the screens of theaters far and wide. Some on the opposing side claimed that it normalized the violence and atrocities that The Joker committed, even going as far as to say the movie was made to incite violence in kids or even society. And, to be frank, I wouldn’t disagree with this opinion.


Throughout my viewing of “Joker,” some things stuck out to me. Firstly, I felt that it was very odd that the writing put The Joker as the hero of the story. There was justice for this character who was blatantly committing horrendous acts and constantly got away with it. Sure, Arthur got knocked around quite a bit throughout the two hour and two-minute run time, but that in no ways makes up for the terrible things he did to the many people who suffered at his hand. It’s almost as if he was meant to be perceived as this benevolent figure by both the characters in the movie and the audience, but it really left a bad feeling in my stomach after watching it through.


Secondly, it felt like some scenes were included with the intention of high shareability online. For example, the talk show scene blatantly seemed like it was meant to be spread across social media as a meme. It certainly hasn’t helped that case with internet figures like ‘incels’ (involuntary celibates) and ‘gamers’ who take The Joker as their proverbial idol after the film’s release. Those in support of the character, and the movie more generally, presumably look to The Joker as the breaker of society’s chains on their actions.


These issues ultimately culminated in theaters taking action; some even decided to hire extra security for screenings of “Joker” to make moviegoers feel at peace when watching the film. Of course, this shouldn’t have to be a requirement to begin with, but after incidents like the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado, it may be safer being too careful rather than being sorry. In said incident, moviegoers were attacked by a costumed shooter while watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” a movie that just so happens to also star The Joker as its main villain.


Something as tragic as the Aurora shooting should be cause enough for these precautions to be taken, as well as for fear to be put in the many moviegoers who simply want to go see an interesting movie.


With all the national controversy brewing, it begged the question of where Randolph-Macon stood on this cinematographic and sociocultural controversy. In response to whether or not the college’s CAB organization was planning on showing “Joker” for Movie Mania Huma Jafree ’22 of CAB said: “I know that CAB isn’t planning to show [it]”,However, Jafree isn’t sure if this is due to the controversy surrounding the film, or if there is a different reason.

Overall, the issues and debates surrounding “Joker” are very serious and luckily weren’t taken lightly by theatres, audiences, and critics around the country. Despite attempts at censoring the movie, efforts have been made in order to provide a safe environment for the theatre world to view such a topical film.

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