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Is The Joker controversy valid?

2019-10-04 09:52
The Joker is quite easily one of the best films of the year. But some have raised concerns around this film glorifying violence and even justifying mass shootings. Phumlani S Langa isn't so certain about all of that.

The Joker
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix

4 and a half stars out of 5

I went in to the media screening of The Joker unaware of the controversy that has shrouded this highly anticipated release by Warner Bros studios and DC Comics. Hailed as a masterpiece at the Venice Film Festival, it took home the Golden Lion – the top honour this festival can bestow.

But, since then, it’s been criticised for allegedly justifying violence and glorifying mass shootings.

The Joker, for the first time, tells the origin story of Batman’s famous nemesis. And this time, it is Joaquin Phoenix wearing the white paint and scarlet grin.

The Joker starts is a man trodden down by society at every turn. Named Arthur Fleck, he is mentally ill with delusions of being a comedian. By day, he works as a clown, twirling an advertisement sign on the streets of Gotham and visiting children’s hospital wards.

He then returns to his grubby domicile where he takes care of his ailing mother. At one point, government cuts funding to social services, which is how he received counselling and medication.

But the last straw is when he is accosted by three men on a subway. At first, he just defends himself, but then a dark violence takes over and he ends up killing them.

It turns out The Joker’s attackers are three Wall Street types, and news of the incident becomes a tipping point for the angry, disenfranchised Gotham public. Fleck becomes a symbol of how those at the top will be held accountable for how they could live with so much and leave so little for the rest.

The fact that the film seems to justify the violence Fleck later engages in is what has had critics buzzing. Parallels have been drawn to the lonely Fleck and members of the incel community, an online subculture of involuntary celibate men who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner.

I couldn’t disagree more. The mass shooters in real life usually talk about how they feel rejected by society, particularly when it comes to matters of love. Yes, Joker is infatuated with a woman in his building – played by Zazie Beetz – but his aggression is not rooted solely in his romantic desires.

Critics say the film could incite violence, but how exactly would a villain such as The Joker or the masses of displeased Gothamites get the attention they deserve without violence?

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Also, he doesn’t shoot up a school, he exacts his anger on three men who attacked him.

The leading men are sublime in this story of a villain who takes centre stage with a much needed gust of fresh thought. But how exactly are you going to watch a story of a villain such as The Joker and not see some disturbing things? The Joker isn’t a being with superpowers like Thanos.

He’s a man who plummets to the depths of violence because of a society that shunned him.

For me, The Joker is one of the top features released this year, alongside Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood.

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October 13 2019