‘Joker’ sparks controversy with dark themes

By Lara Becker
Arts & Entertainment Editor

The clown terrorizes the people of Gotham City (Twitter).

Deep in the underbelly of sludge and slime, Gotham City is unearthed once again, but this time in a whole new light – or perhaps a lack thereof. 

Released on Oct. 4, director Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is more than a comic book fantasy. The film raises questions of morality for audience members, corporations and society, as seen through the eyes of an already popularized character. 

“Joker” follows Gotham citizen Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and his escape from his grim life as he transforms into the Joker. 

Taking form as the symbol of revolution for the impoverished population that makes up the heart of the city, Fleck internalizes inner and outer demons and becomes a symbol of the world around him – evil.

While it was easy for the upper-class citizens of Gotham to write off Fleck and his new followers as “clowns,” the 99 percent made their opposition clear, turning the infamous city on its head.

The amount of controversy surrounding this film was unparallelled even before the first screenings. Thought to be a glorification of violence and gore, the film had less than favorable initial reactions. 

Yet, what the film expresses so brilliantly is how this type of review is the exact social reaction Phillips is commenting on through his filmmaking. 

The film’s critics cower behind their fear of delving into the deeper layers of “Joker,” which explores how the beaten-down can be so easily demonized without a second glance.

“The Joker is the same as Batman, he just chooses the wrong path,” said Chris Stuckman, an often trending YouTube film reviewer.

The movie explores this concept – the lines between good and evil are blurred when the world seems to be out to get you. After dealing with devastating blow after blow, Fleck unravels secrets behind his childhood, wrestles with an unaccepted mental illness and comes to the conclusion that nothing really matters anymore.

Contrary to the belief of some reviewers, this is not to say that the film sympathizes with Fleck in the slightest. The camera serves as an omniscient eye into this man’s life and his descent into madness as a result of his troubles.

What “Joker” is unabashedly bold in creating in every exquisite shot is discomfort. From devastating close-ups, painstaking emotion and incredible longing shown through both acting and directing, the film is a revelation.

Phoenix’s acting alone is enough to generate Oscar buzz, as his portrayal of Fleck’s sheer melancholy and distress reaches out from screens to shake viewers to their very core.

The film is a marvel in its ability to squeeze every emotion out of audience members as they travel through a different kind of Joker story – one that is certainly memorable. 

And yet, reviewers from The New York Times and The Washington Post postulate that the film is a pointless nothing, with no direction to be found.

Shying away from terror is perhaps the scariest thing of all in this case. Are critics too fearful of confronting the realities of true tragedy? 

Their cowardice pales in comparison to the audacious combination of Phillips’ direction and Phoenix’s acting.

What results is nothing short of a masterpiece, all while wearing crimson tweed suits, green hair dye and a shining sanguineous smile. 

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