Joker Response to Criticism Joaquin Phoenix Todd Phillips

There’s plenty of discussion going on around the subject of director Todd Phillips’ upcoming film Joker, and while most early reviews have been positive, there’s a section of the internet concerned that the film glorifies violence and could, in fact, be dangerous. People worry that the violence in the film and the fact that Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is the central figure could incite more violence given the Joker’s motivations in the movie. It got to the point that WB released a statement about the issue defending the film and saying they believe that “that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.”

But what do the folks who actually made Joker think about all this, and what exactly were they trying to say with the film, which — it is important to note — has only been seen by a handful of people at this point? IGN got the chance to ask both Phillips and Phoenix. The former highlighted the fact that he believes the message of the movie is one that audiences can handle:

I really think there have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven’t even seen the movie and they don’t need to. I would just argue that you might want to watch (Joker), you might want to watch it with an open mind … The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message … It’s so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can’t.’ It’s making judgments for other people and I don’t even want to bring up the movies in the past that they’ve said this about because it’s shocking and embarrassing when you go, oh my God, Do the Right Thing, they said that about [that movie, too].

Despite the ill-advised direct comparison to one of the most important movies ever made, Todd Phillips has a point about not having seen Joker before dragging it through the ringer. Joaquin Phoenix agrees, stating the following:

 Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.

There’s definitely a discussion to be had over Joker about the role of art in our society, but it’s not exactly a new one. The question of art imitating life or life imitating art is about as old as the first cave paintings, and we’re just hashing it out once again.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is a film critic with more than a decade of experience reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He runs the website and will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.

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  1. What complicates this is it seems bizarre to attach this film to the comic book character Joker. It’s crass commercialism. That raises eyebrows, as it probably should. I watched the new Spiderverse cartoon the other day (it wasn’t choppy like in the advertising) and I could not help but wonder why on earth it was a Spiderman movie. There seemed to be so much effort (and talent?) on show that it seems a waste on such a conceit as Spiderman. It’s an engine of commercialism that returns to the familiar. These characters invade our civilization in ways that are ultimately I don’t think healthy (certainly not for the arts) and not well appreciated either.

    Spiderman is nothing more than what Sony calculates is the totem that will make it the most return on its animation studio. Okay, sure, maybe the people involved in Spiderverse are die hard Spiderman adherents, and this was their passion project… but that’s still weird if you really think about it. It would speak to a culture that is hollowed out. Our culture.

    1. The funny thing is that it embraces commercialism less than other super hero movies. While the later relied on keeping the plot away from press until release day to keep spoiler fever and hype as high as possible, Joker was shown to the press and to the most prominent film critics long before release (it’ll be out in October 4th).

      1. Without having seen it, I think possibly using Joker could be a device to infuse the film with the subtext of the movie theater mass shooter that dressed as the Joker character… without being able to explicitly do that in the film. It’s going to either be super serious or super inappropriate.

        1. That’s just you projecting. This movie was written as a character study. Obviously virtually every villain is going to have a backstory that is emotionally painful. But, with all due respect, you come off as just another nutjob who automatically associates real-world violence with fictional art, like video games, books, movies, and music. Consider the possibility that these patterns you see are all in your head.

  2. This sounds like the same reaction “Hatred” got back in the day.

    Edit 15 hours later: Looking at the responses to this comment, I think I should’ve clarified which part of the reaction I was talking about. Notice that first sentence in Todd Phillips’ quote: “I really think there have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven’t even seen the movie and they don’t need to.” That was something that happened when Hatred was released too, including on this site during its dark period, and it was just as baseless as it is this time.

    1. You mean that game that was a maypole of controversy for about a month or so before it was rightfully discarded as the mediocre pretentious garbage it actually was?

      I mean, Joker at least has some roundabout form of merit, even if it’s liable to fall into the trap of “yet another mediocre overhyped edgy movie based on a comic property” with a dash of “completely squandering its premise of social commentary”.

    2. I didn’t play Hatred, but the premise seems edgy by design. Joker either hides it very well, or is honest-to-God not intended to be it.

    3. Nah! Everyone could tell that Hatred was mediocre at best; while Joker received an 8 minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.

    4. Hatred was always too fucking stupid to take seriously. It was a crappy game, that’s only call to relevancy was its intentional desire to stir up controversy. It was like watching an edgy dweeby 14 year old clamor for attention.

  3. Wow, “Do the Right Thing” is “one of the most important movies ever made?” Matthew Razak better stop smoking whatever he is smoking because it’s warping his mind.

  4. The author clearly has run out of things to write about. So instead of promoting a worthwhile discussion, he latches on to this niche point of view simply for its shock value. And if that wasn’t enough, half the “article” is just a copy-paste of things he didn’t say or write. This is why critics aren’t relevant anymore.

    1. The author wrote up a news story and quoted a relevant interview sharing the actor and director’s comments about the movie. That’s it. Move on.

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