There’s a lot going on in Joker that’s prompted much discussion, such as Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative performance that’ll surely nab him that long-awaited Oscar, the instances of graphic violence, and moments that draw parallels to worrying incel behaviour.
All that discussion is warranted though because Joker is a really unsettling film to watch.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck is haunting yet mesmerising in a contradictory way. He’s suffering from a mental illness that makes him laugh uncontrollably when he gets emotional and he gets literally and figuratively beat down throughout Joker.
All this should make Arthur a sympathetic character but he is an utterly reprehensible, creepy and ultimately violent figure who you simply can’t root for despite all his hardships.
It’s not hard to see why people drew links between Arthur lashing out due to anger and toxic self-pity and real-world white incel violence, and why Joker started copping a heap of backlash for it.
Here’s the big question though: will Joker inspire angry white incels to be the next Arthur Fleck and it’ll be the film’s fault? Probably not because films may be powerful but they don’t suddenly turn people into killers.
But should you feel uncomfortable after watching Joker? That’s a definite yes because that’s ultimately the point of the movie.
For all the concerns about Joker, it isn’t asking you to sympathise with Arthur or presenting a glorification of white incel violence. It’s presenting a (somewhat clumsy) nihilistic and grounded look into themes like social status, trauma and mental illness. You’re supposed to be repulsed by what unfolds because it’s all incredibly messed up and that feeling is exacerbated because the film sits somewhere close to the realm of plausibility.
If Joker and Arthur’s actions don’t make you uncomfortable, then that should be more of a concern than the violence that goes on in the film.
At the end of the day, if you’re walking out of a film feeling super uncomfortable and filled with questions about what just unfolded before your eyes, then chances are the movie has fulfilled its purpose. After all, that’s what art is supposed to do.
Just because Joker made you squirm in your seat doesn’t make it some dangerous film that should be locked up. That’s exactly how you should feel while watching it.