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Joker: Evil has never felt more real and disgusting

Movies affect people. They can change people’s perceptions and inspire positive development. Sometimes movies tackle taboo or uncomfortable subjects. Sometimes they show acts that are degrading, disgusting, cruel, violent, gratuitous, or horrific. But this reviewer understands that the truth is important and that the bad can inspire us to build good. There is something beautiful in truth.

There is nothing beautiful in “Joker.”  There is only darkness, despite the ironic comedy the protagonist sees himself in.  “Joker” is neither a clever commentary nor an insightful, cautionary tale. It is not entertaining nor is it moving, and there are definitely no jokes to be had. The film is as twisted and confused as its titular character. For some viewers it may be one of the most disturbing films they’ve seen in their lives.

There are legitimate narrative criticisms to be had with “Joker,” such as the lack of any subtext in dialogue scenes or the bare bones nature of character interactions. What makes Joker snap and become violent is also flimsy and says little about his character or the mental illness he grapples with.

However, none of this is to say that “Joker” is not well-made.

The cinematography drips with melancholic atmosphere, using discomforting wide shots that somehow feel claustrophobic, and taking advantage of obtuse Dutch angles. The color palette is almost sick, exposing muted golds and excess neon against a murky green backdrop. The score is brilliantly fused, concealing itself in chilling cello until exploding into riveting brass. And above all else, this movie makes use of Joaquin Phoenix’s impeccable talents as an actor. It is unnerving how transformed physically he is, but it is even more gripping to lose sight of the actor and only see the terrifyingly-real monster he portrays.

But whatever exists inside of the movie’s technical skeleton will seep into the minds of viewers and sit with them for days. It is a hopelessness that permeates the entire movie and does not leave the audience once they leave the theater. It is mangled, empty, bewitching, and flaying of human decency.

To ignore the discussion about if this film will yield real-life negative consequences would be irresponsible and naïve. Copious studies from UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, The Telegraph, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and many more determined that no causal relationship exists between media violence and actual violent behavior.

But correlations exist. In the Telegraph’s 2014 study, two groups of individuals were monitored watching violent media: a group with past aggressive behavior and a group without. According to the study, “While watching violence the aggressive group had less activity in the orbito-frontal cortex, which controls emotion-related decision making and self-control. These subjects said they felt more inspired and determined and less upset or nervous than their non-aggressive counterparts.”

For “Joker,” it is not the acts of violence or the choices the protagonist makes that have dangerous potential. The film has every right to portray those. It is the apathy and ignorance it has in never condemning the violence that is so horrific. There are no contrasting philosophies with the Joker, thus, audiences are only left with his unhinged viewpoint.

Individuals who already struggle with aggressive behavior may find solace in a film that never tells them they’re wrong—where a murderer of the innocents is recognized as a hero of the oppressed. And if they possess a lack of self-control and are adversely inspired to action by this movie’s apathy, then that could spell tragic consequences.

Audiences need to know this film will affect them. Deaths have never felt more real and disgusting. The film is intentionally flashy and demands to invade one’s mind.  There is a very real feeling of horror at how authentic and palpable this movie is. It may be wise to avoid “Joker” all together, at least until one can watch it from the security of their own home.

Achieving truthful storytelling is vital and a responsibility of the ones telling the story; but, the execution and intention of that truth is just as significant. When a film like “Joker” comes along, storytellers must ask themselves: Do they have a responsibility to be moral? After seeing this movie, perhaps that question is less engrained in artistic integrity and more so in human morality.

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