“Joker” Isn’t All That Deep

Raphael Alegbeleye/PantherNOW

Ursula Muñoz Schaefer/Assistant Opinion Director

“Joker” has been out for two weeks now and people have opinions. Critics and fans alike have expressed anxiety around this particular origin story, the main concern being that it would supposedly lead to violence.

Having finally watched the film, the level of discourse on both sides feels overblown for a movie that doesn’t have all that much to say.

A lot of this has to do with the notoriety surrounding the character’s fanbase. As one of DC’s most iconic supervillains, the Joker has garnered a massive following, which has led to often eye-rolling statements made by fans glorifying his nihilistic ideology.

“Why so serious?” laptop stickers are to self-absorbed gamers what “sHE beLIEveD” is to scene girls who spend all of their time on Tumblr.

For that reason, it isn’t hard not to associate the character with the involuntarily celibate men who form hate communities on 4chan discussion boards and blame their sexual frustrations on women while glorifying mass shooters like Isla Vista’s Elliot Rodger.

When it was announced that the latest iteration of Joker would be an origin story that made the character sympathetic and placed the blame for his violent terrorism on—jazz hands—society, people groaned. The last thing anyone needs is another film making potential homegrown terrorists feel validated, right?

While the incel jokes are fun and all, people’s misdirected hate towards the film only mirrors fans’ misdirected love for the character. 

Earlier this semester, I wrote an article about how blaming films like this one for our country’s shooting epidemic is counterproductive because it shifts the focus from our flimsy gun laws and insufficient mental health services.

While my criticism of the exhausting discourse around “Joker” still stands, I don’t consider it a film without flaws. This has less to do with it carrying the wrong message to the wrong people, but rather with it having almost no message at all.

For a movie so bold, the political undertones feel so bland. In an effort to appeal to everyone and anger no one, this Joker says his actions don’t serve a particular political ideology, and it’s clear that the film tries alluding to talking points on both sides of the political spectrum. I find myself going back and forth on whether it’s admirable or cowardly for trying to appeal to everyone at the same time.

On the other hand, I think there’s something sly about how this particular Joker is framed in comparison to all of the previous versions.

Even though the Joker has been around for almost 80 years, it was Heath Ledger’s portrayal that cemented him as the ultimate version for millennials and Gen Zers, making every subsequent Joker subject to ruthless comparisons.

The appeal for 2008’s Joker came from the fact that he was impossibly cool. He was clearly deranged, but he was a genius who wore a badass trenchcoat and spouted witty, existential dialogue. He was what every toxic nerd contributing to the destruction of online communities thinks they look like.

The 2019 version represents what they actually are. 

It’s no coincidence that a lot of the people responsible for Arthur’s descent into madness in this new movie are women and people of color. This is a film that tries coding him as an incel without being overtly political. From living with his mom to not knowing how to spell, he’s the furthest possible thing from anything anyone would try to emulate. We pity him, but he has no admirable qualities, because real terrorists in the making aren’t witty or intelligent.

Maybe this movie could’ve said more and maybe the same crowd who gathered all of the wrong lessons from “Fight Club” are going to put this movie on a pedestal for all of the wrong reasons. But I still think “Joker” does a decent job of holding a mirror to their faces.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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