Does the New ‘Joker’ Glorify White Male Violence?
“I do yawn at the idea of another story in which white men are offered a sort of understanding for their violence.”
The new comic book movie Joker has already drawn significant buzz long before its official wide release in October: praise for the film and its titular star Joaquin Phoenix’s acting—and mounting theories that it’s a troubling manifesto for lonely, disillusioned white men and gun violence.
Joker, based on a popular villain from the “Batman” comic book series, centers on a character named Fleck (aka Joker), a clown-by-hire and aspiring comedian living with his mother. Goaded by an affliction that causes him to laugh at inappropriate moments, he is bullied by kids, co-workers, and strangers alike.
Directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover) the film already premiered to rave reviews at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival on August 31 and nabbed the top prize, the Golden Lion. Subsequently, several media outlets are already deeming it a “genuine, multi-category Oscar contender, including Best Picture.”
However, parallels between the film and our current culture are being deemed as troubling: the main character eventually uses gun violence to enact revenge on a society that rejects him, for example.
In an age of increasing mass shootings, (often at the hands of troubled young white men), Joker may be too close to reality for some viewers.
Early reviews have been divisive often because of this analysis. Some critics are already condemning the film’s potential as a de facto manifesto for troubled young white men—accusing it of promoting empathy and justification for a protagonist that resorts to violence.
“Joker is the antihero the alienated and angry have been waiting for, and that’s precisely the problem,” Sarah Hagi wrote in a column about the film for the Globe and Mail. “I do yawn at the idea of another story in which white men are offered a sort of understanding for their violence.”
However, it’s also been acknowledged that the film doesn’t promote the character’s actions, but rather is a character study of an inherently troubled person.
In a review for TIME, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “the movie lionizes and glamorizes [Fleck] even as it shakes its head, faux-sorrowfully, over his violent behavior.”
Warner Bros, which released the film, has described it as an “exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study but also a broader cautionary tale,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
If it is a cautionary tale, many reviewers have not seen it that way. Are they overreacting out of fear, paranoia, and political correctness in our fraught times? It certainly hasn’t stopped the film from earning a top accolade already, in Toronto.
Audiences will have to see the film and decide for themselves. The Joker has been a popular character for a long time; is this new film and its storyline just bad timing in our age of gun violence?
Naturally, lots of fans are already defending the movie’s alleged themes and storyline, which is to be expected for any film—particularly comic book movies which have a strong fanbase.
Joker premieres in theaters October 4.