On Joker (with Spoilers)

by Akim Reinhardt

I saw Joker last week. I think it’s an excellent film. But the two friends I was with, whose tastes often overlap with my own, really hated it, and we spent the ensuing 90 minutes examining and debating the film. Critics are likewise fiercely divided. Towards the end of our conversation, one friend admitted that, love it or hate it, the film evokes strong reactions; it’s difficult to ignore.

One reason Joker is so divisive and controversial is that several issues have dogged the film.

  • The film seriously confronts issues of nihilism. Because this is almost unheard in major Hollywood movies, it’s challenging even sophisticated viewers.
  • Director Todd Phillips has recently said some very stupid shit.
  • In this Trumpist moment, it is difficult to separate the film from current concerns about violence, toxic masculinity, misdirected raging populism, and possibly even oppressive whiteness.

Any serious discussion of the film must deal with these and other issues. Let’s start with the bookends of Phillips’ intentions and possible audience interpretations.

Director Todd Phillips, he of the massively popular and progressively redundant Hangover film franchise, has recently joined the chorus of spoiled Gen X comedians whining about “cancel culture,” and opined quite stupidly that “woke culture” has made it impossible to do comedy, and thus, feeling cornered, he has turned to drama.

Phillips’ sentiments are moronic, fragile, self-absorbed, and immature. In the real world, “cancel culture” is called “business decisions.” If Saturday Night Live fires a new writer because some of his prior comedy amounted to little more than tired old racism, they have done so because they’re worried about their bottom line, not your feelings. But if you really want to put the lie to “woke culture” ruining comedy, just watch the raunchy comedy of a talented, young, boundary-pushing comic like Nikki Glaser. In that context, Phillips just sounds like another middle-aged, straight white guy angrily bitching that no one laughs at his dumb locker room jokes anymore. Rat tail!

So is it fair then to ask about Phillips’ artistic and political intentions in making this film? Yes and no. Read more »