If you have seen the trailer for the new Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix, you know it's not your average comic book film with the good guy swooping in to save the world. It is an in-depth character study about a depressed, lonely man who has trouble relating to people, especially to the women in his life who he dearly wants to impress.
The Joker has always been one of DC Comics most favourite villains, having been played multiple times by some of Hollywood's most legendary actors. Jack Nicholson played him in the 90s. Mark Hamill voiced him in the illustrated version. Health Ledger took him to a whole new level in the Christopher Nolan Batman series. How will Joaquin Phoenix's version stack up against all these past performances? Well, the film is all the buzz at this years' Toronto International Film Festival and there is talk that Phoenix will earn an Oscar nomination.
In the past, the Joker had no origin story. According to some versions, Joker is a failed clown who just had a bad run of things but he really has no history. Director Todd Phillips origin movie attempts to correct this but this has led to quite a diverse opinion and even controversy on social media.
Reviews from critics here have been largely positive, though they have also already sparked discontented rumblings from the internet. One of the central points of contention around the comic-book villain is that it in some way panders to incel which is short for 'involuntary celibates'. These are men who see themselves as losers who women don’t want to sleep with - hence the name. Recently the so-called incels have been getting a lot of attention. A couple of real-world violence incidents have erupted involving men who identify themselves as incels, as with the Isla Vista murders, when a killer targeted a sorority, shooting 11 people and killing six before killing himself being one of the more recent. In fact, at least four mass murders, resulting in 45 deaths, have been committed in the United States by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related names and writings in their private writings or postings.
In Joker, Joaquin Phoenix’s unhinged Arthur Fleck is in every sense a loser. He is friendless aside from his mother, works as a party clown, and his paralyzing tendency to burst into peals of maniacal laughter unnerves everyone he meets. And when he becomes romantically intrigued by Sophie, a pretty girl he barely knows, his fantasies go into overdrive.
Yet according to some critics who have seen the film romance and sex, or lack of these, is not a major factor in Joker’s move towards violence; he never expresses any particular malice toward Sophie. Rather, Arthur is driven by a need to be seen and loved. In his case, it’s as a star comedian, but when he can’t achieve that goal, he finds more insidious routes to fame.
Some critics are concerned that Joker might spark copycat violence or make the character a sort of folk hero for men who identify as incels. It’s a possibility. Fleck is not a one dimensional villain but has real- life complex issues which can be interpreted in any number of ways. He seeks counselling and takes psych medications, but social services cutbacks prevent him from accessing suitable care.
Despite critics concerns, Joker is a smart, stylish film that is sure to strike a cord with all types of film audiences. Audiences relate to Fleck and his pathetic struggle for happiness turned violent war against the establishment. He's shown, at worst, as a product of his environment and, at best, a man exacting revenge against a society that wronged him.
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