From the Satanic panic of the 1980s, to complaints that inevitably accompany every Tarantino movie, the idea that media is the direct cause of horrific acts of violence is recurring. Frankly, it is also a tired stereotype.
This is not to say that cinema does not affect us. Movies have the power to inspire us, especially when they’re well made. However, the actions of someone sick enough to replicate fictional violence into reality cannot be a responsibility of the filmmakers. Such individuals, much like Joker protagonist Arthur Fleck, have a dangerously warped perception of reality, which does not allow them to see the movie for what it is.
“Todd Phillips does not allow the actions of the protagonist to be concealed by cinematic sheen: that’s what makes them effective.”
In fact, maybe the most important, yet overlooked aspect of this discussion should be the film itself. Does it go too far in its depiction of violence, rendering it dangerous to society? The truth is that the violence in this movie is shocking, disturbing, and unsettling. Just like it would be in real life. Todd Phillips does not allow the actions of the protagonist to be concealed by cinematic sheen: that’s what makes them effective. The controversy on the violence present in this movie showcases how unaccustomed we are to seeing this kind of realism on screen, without any glorifica
tion to distance it from reality. It is because of this raw depiction that Arthur Fleck’s actions do not read as cathartic nor liberating, but rather as a grave development of his mental illness.
“This movie does not invite cosplay, imitation or adoration of its protagonist: it demands the audience to empathize, not idolize. And while understanding his actions is necessary, justifying them is not.”
The characterization of Arthur Fleck is another point of controversy, with many believing that he could be hailed as a hero by violent groups of society. However, the movie does not hold the Joker as a champion for the ‘misunderstood’: he cannot lead a movement because, due to his mental illness, he only sees himself. The following he gains in Gotham, or might gain in reality, is from people who do not know, nor care about him or his story, but merely project their struggles upon this tragic figure. Yet, this movie does not invite cosplay, imitation or adoration of its protagonist: it demands the audience to empathize, not idolize. And while understanding his actions is necessary, justifying them is not.
Some American activists have even called for Joker to be banned from theatres. While this might be well-intentioned efforts of concerned citizens, it is dangerous to target movies like this one, because it provides politicians with a welcomed distraction from reality: although media is consumed everywhere, mass-shootings are a distinctively American issue. Regrettably, Todd Philips is not contributing to the discussion this movie deserves. His upsetting inquire of why people react to this movie differently than they did to John Wick 3, does not serve the movie nor its message. Rather, he should recognize that people being shocked by the violence means that he has done his job as a director, by creating art that arouses a visceral response.
From the stigma around mental health, to the blind following of problematic individuals, this movie conveys a dark portrayal of our reality. While it may be misunderstood by those who watch it superficially, its creators should not be condemned for it. At its heart, it encourages discussion, empathy and understanding for the ‘other side’, and warns us what happens when that advice is not followed.
Last modified: 22nd October 2019