The Controversy Over Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker

The Controversy Over Joaquin Phoenixs Joker

Ellie Hood

This Friday, October 4th, Warner Bros. will release their long anticipated movie Joker. This will be the first movie to go fully in-depth into the notorious Joker’s backstory.

It’s no secret that the Joker is disturbingly evil, being a murderous psychopath and all. However, this is not what is causing the controversy. Movie critics’ biggest concern is that Joker romanticizes incel culture. Incels are people who long for romantic relationships, but cannot obtain them, so they choose to take revenge. In Joker, main character Arthur Fleck is rejected both by his male peers and by the single mother that lives next door to him, which fuels his desire to slaughter mercilessly and in large numbers. In summary, movie critics are worried that because  the Joker is being portrayed as an “underdog antihero rather than a homicidal maniac,” it will encouraged other disenfranchised young to men to “act out on their violent impulses.” Director Todd Phillips denies accusations of encouraging violence actions, saying specifically that “we didn’t make the movie to push buttons […] I don’t think it’s the filmmaker’s responsibility to teach morality.”

Heath Ledger’s Joker (2012, left) next to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker (2019, right)

This concern also goes hand-in-hand with today’s long-standing controversy of gun violence. When The Dark Knight was released in 2012, a man named James Holmes opened fire at at a theater in Aurora, Colorado claiming that he “was the Joker.” The families of the victims of this shooting have not advocated to pull the movie out of theaters, but have demanded that Warner Bros. donate a portion of their profit to gun violence survivor and intervention services, as well as stop funding political candidates with loyalties to the NRA. So far, police have not issued warnings regarding any serious threats to theatergoers.

2012 “The Dark Knight” gunman James Holmes on trial with his “Joker hair.”

Theaters have attempted to ease tension regarding violence in theaters by banning “costumes, face-paint, or masks” from any showings of Joker for both patrons and employees. However, it is unclear how this will help.


Works Cited and Photo Credits

Collins, Vicky, and Alex Johnson. “Aurora Theater Shootings Trial: Meet the James Holmes Jury.”, NBC Universal News Group, 11 June 2015.

Dickson, EJ. “Why Everyone Is Freaking Out About ‘Joker’.” Rolling Stone, Penske Business Media, 1 Oct. 2019.

Evans, Mel. “Good Luck to Joaquin Phoenix – Heath Ledger’s Joker Is Going to Be Hard to Top.” Metro, Associated Newspapers Limited, 1 Sept. 2019.

Mears, Hayden. “Yes, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix Have Tossed Around Joker 2 Ideas.” CINEMABLEND, Gateway Blend Entertainment, 23 Sept. 2019.