Like Christopher Nolan, who took on post-9/11 themes to ecstatic critical response in his "Dark Knight Trilogy," Joker director Todd Phillips has something to say about the state of the world with his new film, which will be in theaters next month. Unlike Nolan, though, his film's unsettling psychological sketch of a despicable man has drawn a good deal of criticism for being potentially dangerous. In a world inundated with people who fit almost exactly Arthur Fleck's personality and demographics, who routinely engage in acts of monstrous violence that leave dozens hurt or killed, some have asked whether making Fleck the film's protagonist will empower and embolden that kind of person.
The rebuttal to that, such as it is, seems to be that while Arthur Fleck is the film's protagonist, he's hardly a hero. Sympathizing with him may be part of the journey but justifying his increasingly-evil behavior throughout the movie's story is not. And, as star Joaquin Phoenix notes, it is difficult to say anything about hot-button issues if you live in fear of terrible people engaging in bad-faith readings of your work. From Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" to David Fincher's Fight Club, the world is full of examples of mass entertainment that is routinely misunderstood, even by supposedly intelligent audiences.
"The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message," Phillips told IGN, and suggested that those who criticize the film without having seen it are in the wrong.
"I think that, for most of us, you're able to tell the difference between right and wrong," added the film's star, Joaquin Phoenix. "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."
The version of the Joker featured in the new film is obviously based loosely on the iconic DC villain, but is largely an original creation from Phillips and Phoenix. During the Joker junket, ComicBook.com spoke with Phoenix about bringing Arthur to life, and he explained that there were multiple times during production that his character went in different directions than he had initially expected.
"I think there are several, but it was such a long time ago that I'm having a hard time remembering," Phoenix told us. You know, I don't want to repeat myself and bore you, but a really transformative moment was after the Subway when he's in the bathroom. That was something that we really hadn't anticipated. We talked about that scene all throughout rehearsal. When I really kind of struggled to find something that I felt really made sense to kind of illustrate the change from Arthur to Joker. There were things like that every day up until the last scene I shot where we did multiple versions of it.
"It just was the nature of the character. When Todd [Phillips] and I became comfortable with that, it really began to emerge. That was a really unexpected, strange, and unique process for me. But, it was enjoyable."
Are you looking forward to Joker? Will you be buying your tickets for opening weekend? Let us know in the comments!
Joker hits thaters nationwide on October 4th.