Russell Brand Explains Why Joker Movie Is so Controversial

Joker has been in theaters for less than a full month, but the Todd Phillips-directed film is arguably one of the biggest in this back half of 2019. From a box office perspective, the film is huge, sitting at around $740 million at the worldwide box office, but financial success isn't the only measure of a film. Joker has also captured the cultural conversation. Even before the film actually opened in theaters, there was a lot of discussion and controversy about Joker. Much of it settled around concerns that the film was glorifying violence or would spark violence, but there have been other criticisms as well with the overall takeaway being that Joker has certainly struck a nerve. Russell Brand believes he knows why.

In a video Brand shared to his YouTube channel earlier this month, Brand touches on several general themes and ideas, but they seem to come down to one big thing. The entertainer does acknowledge that the violence component is part of things, but that in a real way it all boils down to economics and consumer culture -- as well as how people feel very left behind in that culture and what that does to our overall ideologies.

"I am beginning to sense that the reason the film Joker is causing such controversy is because yes on the superficial level the glamorization of violence, as soon as you put violence in a film you're glamorizing it because we're looking at it on a screen being rendered by beautiful and attractive charismatic actors," Brand says. "I think what it's got in addition to the problem of any violence from Tarantino to Sergio Leone to whoever has put violence in films - frankly, who hasn't - the real problem is that it has as its central point the it's providing the voice to something that isn't being correctly understood and addressed and I believe that that is the neglect of a particular portion of society and, again, in my opinion that's not about race ... this consumer culture has replaced ideologies that might give people a sense of connection and virtue. That's what I think Joker's about. It's about the consequences of a nihilistic landscape."

One could truthfully argue that there's far more to the film that makes it controversial than just that -- Joker's approach to mental illness, for example. The variety of perspective is what makes any discussion of film interesting. That said, Brand isn't entirely off base. The economic imbalance in Gotham is very much a major component of Joker, seen particularly sharply in the demonstrations against Gotham's rich as well as the funding cuts in the social services program that provided Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck with his medication. Joker puts an even finer point on this theme during his performance on Murray Franklin's (Robert De Niro) show, where he talks about how the disenfranchised are abandoned by society.

Even if you don't agree with Brand's assessment of why Joker is such a hot topic, the buzz about the film has certainly helped it at the box office, driving people to the film in order to get into the cultural conversation going on around it.

“Not only did Joker over-perform in North America, but also internationally where the acclaim, buzz and controversy surrounding the film resonated strongly with moviegoers who put the film at the top of their cinematic priority list,” ComScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian previously told Variety. “Movies that become part of the general conversation due to their controversial nature are often those that transcend their status as a movie to become a cultural event and this is exactly what happened with Joker.”

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Joker is in theaters now. Upcoming DC Films movies include Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) on February 7, 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5, 2020, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2022.

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