Joker Director Todd Phillips Says the Film Is About the Lack of Empathy in the World

Todd Phillips' Joker has been a hot topic of conversation since before it even hit theaters with one of the specific topics being about what the movie is really about, what its message is. Is it a film that glorifies violence by making the villain the hero? Is it a film that aims to make the villain a sympathetic figure? According to Phillips, though, neither of those things are really the central idea of Joker. Instead, it's about the lack of empathy in the world today.

During a Q&A with Deadline after an Awardsline screening of Joker, Phillips explained that the central idea Joker was built on is the idea of what would happen if one grew up in a world lacking empathy. That was the core thought that he went to co-writer Scott Silver with and ultimately built Joker on.

"A lot of it was the very first thing when I went to Scott Silver with the idea, the first thing we touched on thematically was this lack of, loss of I should say, empathy that we all feel in the world nowadays, this idea," Phillips said. "Everything else was built on that idea of like what if you grow up in a world that really lacks empathy, what if our Gotham is really a cold, dark place full of people that don't really give a sh-t about each other. That's where this villain comes from."

He went on to further clarify that the story isn't necessarily a direct commentary on the current state of society, though. The lack of empathy is just the core. The rest of the story's development added additional layers and depth to what would become Arthur Fleck's sad tale.

"When you start writing then the other layers come in, the other layers were childhood trauma, the other layers were what happens when you're raised with a lack of love," Phillips added. "Those other things find their way in."

This approach to the Joker story is one that isn't always a welcoming one, hence the continued conversation about the film and it's perceived messages, but Phillips has previously said that the film wasn't meant to push buttons. It's just meant to be a "real" movie.

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"We didn't make the movie to push buttons," Phillips told The Wrap. "I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like, 'Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film.' It wasn't, 'We want to glorify this behavior.' It was literally like 'Let's make a real movie with a real budget and we'll call it f-cking Joker.' That's what it was."

Joker is now available to own on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.