By Gabriella Sorrentino, Assistant Sports Editor
“Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips, is a film that attempts to turn one of the most notorious comic book villains into a sympathetic vigilante, and in doing so produces a message that is nihilistic at best and dangerous at worst.
The movie opens with Arthur Fleck, later known as the Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, dressed head to toe in friendly clown garb, spinning a sign inscribed with the words “Everything Must Go!” While Arthur is working, a group of teens charge towards him and steal his sign. He begins to run after them through the trash-lined streets of Gotham City, yelling for someone to help him stop the thieves, but no one looks twice nor bothers to come to his aid. The chase ends with him being ambushed by the thieves and beaten horrifically in an alley. As the scene pans out on his distorted form curled up on the dirty ground, the audience is left with only feelings of pity, sympathy, and anger for this poor man.
The plot only seems to get worse for Arthur from there. It’s later divulged that Arthur suffers from an unspecified mental illness, lives in a single-bedroom apartment with his ailing mother and is a friendless, fatherless victim of child abuse; the list goes on and on.
When brought into the context of the real world, in this country especially, this portrayal could have a much more disturbing effect.
The fact that Arthur suffers from a mental illness is central to the story; coupled with his violent tendencies and the eventual mass shooting he perpetrates, the movie furthers the idea that people with mental illness are evil. In reality, according to US News, “Studies show that not only are individuals with mental illness less likely to commit violent crimes, they’re actually more likely to be victimized.”
Another cause for concern is the fact that Arthur’s character arc is the ideal most potential mass shooters aim to reach. According to FBI Agent Andree Simons, mass shooters generally share common motivating factors. “Usually it’s a desire for some omnipotent control, even if it’s just momentary. There is also a degree of desire for infamy and notoriety,” Simons said. This concept is fully embodied in Arthur’s rise to a news sensation in Gotham and the way his life seems to improve after he murders three men on the subway.
Characters like Arthur Fleck/Joker should never be made into sympathetic characters. There is a huge difference between understanding a character and caring for them, and Todd Phillips chose to try to turn a mass murderer into someone the audience should like and relate to. Instead, he created someone who epitomizes the wishes of criminals and mass shooters while simultaneously pushing a narrative that unfairly vilifies mental illness.