Controversial movie prompts polarizing reviews

Depictions of mental health and violence garner variety of reactions

The film “Joker,” released on Oct. 4, has been met with both immense criticism and lavish praise.

The film depicts how the character of mentally ill Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, morphs into the Joker as he consistently falls victim to the evils of society.
Some critics praise the film for revealing insights into the human condition, while others condemn it for carelessly justifying why people do bad things.

Literature and film teacher Brett Rubin doesn’t think the film has much to offer in terms of bringing to light truths about society and humanity as a whole.

“I think the film thinks it has a lot to say, and yet I don’t know exactly what it is saying and I don’t know that it assumes responsibility for many of the choices or ambiguous plot threads or character motivations that never seem to be resolved or come together,” he said.

Rubin went on to explain that he feels a lack of substance to Arthur Fleck’s character, making it difficult to find much to connect with.

“To me, he comes across as a wholly reactive character and so therefore I don’t really see anything tragic,” said Rubin. “It’s kind of an empty vessel. I don’t see much to empathize with. I don’t know that any of his decisions can ultimately be understood nor do we have the context to understand.”

Sophomore Malcolm Waite thinks the controversy has been blown out of proportion and is merely a cautionary tale.

It is accepted by many that an earlier version of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” inspired the horrendous shooting at a movie theater in Colorado in 2012. But Waite thinks that people didn’t get as upset about that film because in that instance the Joker was the clear villain and failed in the end.

“For this one the Joker succeeds and he is the protagonist, so in a way we’re supposed to root for him. But just because he’s a protagonist doesn’t mean he’s a hero,” Waite said.
Junior Ava Blaugh thought the way the film blurred the lines between good and evil is what made it good.

“The whole perspective of the villain really stood out for me. You see the reasoning behind his terrible actions which makes them more justified even though they aren’t, but it’s better than just seeing the villain being just plain evil,” she said.

Junior Catherine Richards agreed, noting the dynamic between Arthur and the society around him.

“I thought it was really interesting seeing the progression in his actions and how the society he was living in impacted him,” Richards said.

Sophomore J.P. Erickson also enjoyed the film despite feeling this recent depiction of the Joker is not completely consistent with who the character is and has been in past renditions.

“He’s a very different character than any of the Jokers we’ve seen before, which is, in a way, what I liked about the movie because it was doing something different,” said Erickson. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think you could really call this guy the true Joker based on what happens in the movie and the way he’s portrayed as a character.”

Senior Katie Miller similarly thought the way the film didn’t follow the tradition superhero style is what made it especially captivating.

“I liked how they didn’t make it like a superhero-type movie,” said Miller. “It was more about him as a person and the way he is.”

Many believe the popularity and success of the film can be attributed to the preexisting interest in the character of the Joker.

“There have been a ton of other critical darlings like the Joker and stuff like that with its themes,” noted Waite. “But it’s only because it’s off a comic book character, which is oversaturated, that people are actually reacting to it because it could attract kids to it.”
Rubin feels that “Joker” has captured the attention of audiences partly because the film exhibits similar themes found in modern society.

“[The film is] reflecting back to us some of the ugliness and some of the shallowness and self-absorption of some of the people who are currently creating a good deal of national discourse,” said Rubin.