Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ sparks old debates

Julian Koonce, Sectional Editor

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James Holmes never put on any type of Joker mask when he entered the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., in 2012 on the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Holmes was someone who claimed to have seen “nail ghosts’’ as a child and expressed that he had been depressed and obsessed with killing for over a decade. None of the entertainment he consumed could’ve caused or prevented it. No film has ever inspired any Average Joe to commit any sort of violent crime. Films like “Taxi Driver” and “A Clockwork Orange” have only inspired specifics of certain psychopaths’ premeditated actions.

I thought as a society we’ve moved past blaming people’s horrific actions on film, television and video games. Upon seeing Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” it became apparent to me that we’re still here and this is going to continue for as long as people make those forms of entertainment.

Now, I mentioned Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” because on the one hand, it is notorious for inspiring the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan. But also, according to Phillips, the film was his largest influence when making “Joker.” For that reason it puts the film in a rough spot.

Some have come forward with concerns that the blockbuster is painting a villain as a heralded protagonist, when that’s just not the case. There are obviously moments in the movie about someone who’s mentally ill and alienated in society, but all of that leaves once main character Arthur Fleck begins his transformation into the titular Joker.

The Joker is one of the most iconic

villains in all comic book movies, and it’s no spoiler alert that he commits atrocious acts. “Joker” is no exception. In response to changes in his life, Fleck commits violent acts. Phillips does solid work of making that violence feel real, and it’s extremely uncomfortable.

You don’t get a sense of joy when Joker acts on his violent plans. It’s an icky feeling and makes you want to look away. There isn’t any sympathy to give for someone who’s a violent psychopath.

Yes, the film wants the viewer to start identifying and helping people going through a mental health crisis and/or preventing it. Usually when someone starts to act strange in public, the first instinct is to make assumptions without knowing what’s going on. That’s what the subway scene in the film’s second act reflects.

A lot of Fleck’s journal entries talk of how lonely he is and how he feels he’s been alienated by society. A memorable entry read, “The worst part about having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”

As people, it’s expected that we know right from wrong. Some might say “Joker” glorifies the wrong. Joaquin Phoenix said it best, by saying, “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the filmmaker to teach the audience morality. I say this movie has a very simple message and that is to take mental health seriously and be kind to your fellow man.”

Credit where credit is due, “Joker” was an outstanding movie shot beautifully by Phillips and featuring an unforgettable performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I believe if the film could separate itself from the controversy, its acting and production are Academy Award-worthy.

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