If you are hooked into Film Twitter or the geeky corners of social media, you likely know that on the heels of the latest Joker trailer there has been a lot of discussion about what the film "means" in the context of a culture struggling with dangerous men whose backstories and worldview often echo what seems to be the trajectory of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), the man who will become The Joker. That an orgy of violence is in his future -- it is, after all, the whole premise of the film -- means that some audience members are wary of being asked to accept him as the film's protagonist and sympathize with his journey, especially some in marginalized community who are concerned that the movie will reinforce negative stereotypes about minorities or people grappling with mental illness.
In some ways, this is not a new conversation -- the fact that DC and Warner Bros. so aggressively market The Joker has been a source of frustration for some parents, pundits, and other critics in the past -- but Joker has brought it front and center. Christopher Nolan used The Joker in The Dark Knight as part of a broader commentary the film was making on post-9/11 America, and there is a subset of the audience who is wondering what commentary Joker director Todd Phillips is making -- and whether it is a potentially harmful one in the current social climate. For his part, Phillips rejects that position.
"I think movies are oftentimes mirrors of society, but they’re never molders," Phillips told reporters in Venice, where the film premiered over the weekend. "So even though the movie takes place in late ‘70s, early ‘80s, we wrote it in 2017. So inevitably, certain themes find their way into the movie that may exist now. And not everybody sees that, some people just see it as a new take on a Joker origin story. So you hate to define it for people, what it is, and it’s certainly not a political film. I mean, for some people. It just really depends, I think, on the lens at which you view it through."
Essentially, then, what Phillips is saying is not that the movie isn't "about" something, but that it is up to the individual audience member to decide what it is about and they tried to make a movie that will speak to different people for different reasons.
"[A lack of empathy is] a big part of what the movie’s about," Phillips explained. "It’s about the lack of empathy that we were seeing in the world at the time we wrote it, that probably still exists, that’s a big theme of the movie, for sure."
Are you looking forward to Joker? Let us know in the comments!
Joker is hitting theaters on October 4th. Other upcoming DC films include Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) on February 7, 2020, and Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5, 2020