Does ‘Joker’ Warrant Backlash for Glorifying Violence? 

The film has been criticised for potentially romanticising violence.

3 min read

Todd Phillips’ Joker has been subject to backlash much before it hit theatres. It incited debates on topics such as toxic masculinity and gun violence as critics drew parallels between the film’s narrative and that of the perpetrators of mass shootings, who are often similarly young, disaffected white men.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joker ascribes the iconic Batman villain an origin story in which he is Arthur Fleck, an unemployed clown who lives with his mother. His career as a stand-up comedian fails to take off and a life that appears to be riddled with disappointment leads Fleck down a path of violence that ends in him becoming the murderous super villain we’re all familiar with.


Critics worried that Joker might serve as a clarion call for incels, a term used to describe community of men who bond over their inability to attract women and often advocate violent misogyny. Even the US army issued a memo warning of possible shootings at theatre screenings.

So is Joker, as the film was introduced at its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, “bonkers”? Does it encourage misplaced sympathy for entitled men? Here’s the verdict.

“Will the film resonate with the “wrong” crowd? Very likely. But ‘Taxi Driver’ has been doing that for decades, and this bastard offspring deserves to be judged outside of the culture war that’s sprung up around it, even if that conversation has only fuelled the fires of anticipation, making it a must-see event in Toronto and beyond. ‘Joker’, in the end, is stylish and reasonably involving and a bit one-note; once you acclimate to its claustrophobic portraiture, it becomes clear that Phillips has little in store for us but one miniature Phoenix freak-out after another.”
AA Dowd, AV Club
“As an origin story, “Joker” is vivid and convincing (and offers a tantalizingly fateful encounter connecting Arthur to the wider universe), but mostly it serves as a canvas for Phoenix, who goes to strenuous lengths to deliver a performance of operatic bombast. Joker’ is, finally, so monotonously grandiose and full of its own pretensions that it winds up feeling puny and predictable. Like the anti-hero at its centre, it’s a movie trying so hard to be capital-b Big that it can’t help looking small.” 
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
“Though Joker boasts Phoenix’s finely layered performance, it contains nothing as quote-unquote “bonkers” as, say, Sandra Bernhard’s absolutely deranged performance in ‘The King of Comedy.’ There is nothing unpredictable about ‘Joker’, nothing we haven’t seen before, no revelations that shift how we see the world or the story. For a movie that clearly prides itself on its edginess, it is weirdly inert and stolid.”
Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
“Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ performance is indeed as transformative and terrifying as early word of mouth would have you believe, but the movie isn’t really sure what to do with it. Whereas dramas like ‘The Master’ and ‘You Were Never Really Here’ used Phoenix’s acting methods to make viewers truly sit with his characters’ trauma, ‘Joker’ is too often guilty of getting caught up in the spectacle of watching him go off the rails. It’s dark and disturbing, sure, but mostly for its own sake.”
Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant
“It is, however, a project drowning in self-seriousness. In his effort to bring realism to the Joker story, Phillips has lost his grasp on the character’s symbolic purpose, treating the audience to something undeniably visceral but also unacceptably shallow.”
David Sims, The Atlantic

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