Box Office: Polarizing though it may be, ‘Joker’ has made its mark on the cinematic world
(Jae Su/Daily Bruin)
By Ryan Wu
Nov. 9, 2019 1:52 pm
It’s official folks.
Last week, “Joker” went wild, grossing over $900 million worldwide. That’s no laughing matter. It’s enough to make “Joker” the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history. It’s especially impressive when you consider that it didn’t receive a release in China, where studios typically make a large chunk of their profits.
The movie – which reimagines the iconic villain as a put-upon schlub that was violently failed by the system – has also managed to become a bona fide cultural phenomenon, becoming a symbol of protestors worldwide: In the movie, the Joker accidentally sparks a protest movement against Gotham’s elite.
This is especially impressive when considering all the things the movie had going against it. This was the movie that languished in developmental agony for a year after the script was completed. Director Todd Phillips had to pitch the movie to two sets of entirely different people before the movie was completed.
Warner Bros. executives fretted about the idea of making an R-rated Joker movie, worrying that it would impact the character’s kid-friendly image. Meanwhile, others had to deal with the wrath of an angry Jared Leto, who was reportedly upset that the studio greenlit a new version of the character he was playing.
That’s on top of the movie becoming a whirlwind of controversy beforehand. Initial reviews coming out of the Venice Film Festival were overwhelmingly positive, with many praising the dark, mature tone and especially Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the Joker.
This early praise quickly curdled, however. Some saw “Joker” as an “incel” fantasy. “Incel” is shorthand for “involuntarily celibate” and refers to a predominately online community of “sex-deprived” men that has come under criticism for promoting misogyny and violence. Many in the incel community used the Joker character as an icon.
The talk got so heated that police departments nationwide heightened security during the premiere.
Jawan Ali, a second-year film student, weighed in on the movie.
“I think ‘Joker’ was very good for what it was,” Ali said.
He felt that while the movie itself wasn’t anything special, the boldness and success of “Joker” was still a watershed moment for cinema.
“Let’s appreciate that a movie can still rile people up and make them think about issues,” Ali said.
Autumn Amara, a third-year psychology student, echoed these sentiments.
“When people talked about (‘Joker’) and talked about its production, they were very upfront about it not being a comic book movie. … It was more of a social commentary. … Walking in with that knowledge, I was ready for that kind of movie, and that’s what I think made me really enjoyed it,” Amara said.
When asked why she thought “Joker” was becoming such a hit, Amara suggested that the film’s success came from its social commentary.
“I think that we’re looking for things that we associate ourselves with, (and) with ‘Joker,’ we see someone go against the grain,” she said. “Someone who’s leading something that’s viewed as a lost cause. College-aged students in particular see that and think, ‘Oh, that could be me.’”
Ali agreed that the film was relevant to society today.
“(The movie) tackles issues of classism and social outcasts and mental health, and it does so from a very agreeable and relatable angle. … Sure, it gets extreme, but that’s the point. And it’s magnificent when it does. It’s thrilling and tense and emotional and effective in all the ways that it needed to be.”
Not all were so high on the movie, however.
“I thought it was kind of middle-of-the-road,” said third-year mathematics for teaching student Andrew Naranjo.
Naranjo had two pieces of praise to offer the movie: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the Joker and the detailed production work on the city of Gotham.
“Even in the beginning there’s a lot of news reports, that’s like, ‘The trash workers are on strike’ or ‘There’s giant rats in the sewers,’ and stuff like that makes the world come alive,” Naranjo said.
Otherwise, though, he was critical, describing the characterization as muddled.
“I know some people tried to argue like, ‘Oh, the Joker, he doesn’t have to make sense.’ But then if you don’t have a character with a clear mind of what he’s trying to do, it doesn’t make a good character study,” Naranjo said.
Naranjo also wasn’t a big fan of the theming of the movie.
“In my audience, there were people that were clapping and cheering (at the end) … and that’s insane if you think about it, because they’re cheering for an anarchist who’s going around shooting people,” he said. “It had cool ideas, but it wasn’t executed well.”
Well-executed or not, “Joker” is certainly a movie that’s sparked a discussion. With hundreds of think pieces written in its wake, “Joker” can certainly claim the crown as one of the most controversial, talked-about movies of the year.
And with a billion dollars at the box office in sight for the movie, that’s nothing to frown at.