Joker Parent Guide
Violent and disturbing, Joker feels somehow hollow.
Parent Movie Review
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) leads a troubled life. Recently released from a psychiatric hospital with seven different medications to manage his various conditions, he lives at home to care for his increasingly senile mother, and his job as a professional clown is going poorly. On the plus side, with the increasing craziness of Gotham, Arthur’s insanity might blend in better than he thought…
The Joker is an iconic character, and he has some big old clown shoes to fill. Jack Nicholson’s performance in 1989’s Batman is perhaps (somehow) the most restrained. The most memorable is likely Heath Ledger’s turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight, which netted him a posthumous Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix leans more towards Heath Ledger’s characterization of the Joker – less comical and more frighteningly unstable. However, Ledger’s Joker had a level of control which enabled his role as a planner and distributor of large-scale chaos. After all, you can’t organize a reign of terror without effort. Phoenix, on the other hand, acts erratically, being tossed this way and that by the bizarre whims that float through his mind. Turns out, you can make a good riot without trying- you’ve just got to shoot the right people.
There has been some criticism of the film, comparing Arthur Fleck to members of the increasingly violent online “incel” community, and pointing out that a sympathetic portrayal of such an individual might spur real life violence. One of the flaws in this argument is that Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur isn’t terribly sympathetic. Yes, Arthur is largely a victim of circumstance, but the film hardly glorifies his violent outbursts. In fact, the film’s treatment of Arthur is largely ambiguous: not wholly sympathetic, not wholly villainous, but entirely unsettling, thanks to Joaquin Phoenix.
Joker isn’t a film for the squeamish or anxious, as Arthur’s declining mental state is unnerving and accompanied by escalating violence and profanity. This film is less violent than I anticipated, which is not to say it isn’t a little gruesome, but that it could have been worse. It also manages not to include any alcohol or explicit sexual content, which is fairly unusual, even in films that haven’t been rated R.
I’m still puzzling out how I feel about this movie. Is it an improvement to have superhero films take themselves more seriously or does their association with comic books – traditionally a juvenile source of entertainment – weaken the films? Joker does feel hollow in a sense, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the dated jokes about people with dwarfism, maybe it’s the comic-book setting, or maybe it’s just a larger flaw in the character writing. Whatever the reason, I found myself missing Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top, gleeful chaos. I think comic book adaptations might do well to back away from the dark and gritty approach they’ve been trying out and get back to the fun.Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, and Marc Maron.. Running time: 122 minutes. Theatrical release October 4, 2019. Updated January 9, 2020
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Joker rated R? Joker is rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.
Violence: People are frequently severely beaten. Individuals are also shown being shot, stabbed, choked, punched, stomped, smothered, smashed in the face, and hit by cars. A person is also stabbed in the neck and eye with a pair of scissors and then has their head repeatedly smashed into a wall. These violent scenes are often graphic, with blood and gore. There are references to suicide and child abuse, although neither one is depicted. A riot is also shown.
Sexual Content: A person is shown from the shoulder sup in the bath. Characters kiss. There are brief images of breast nudity in a magazine. A main character is seen with his hand in his pants which could imply masturbation.
Profanity: I counted 26 uses of extreme profanity and 8 of scatological curses. A number of mild profanities and terms of deity are also used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Individuals are frequently shown smoking. Individuals are shown severely intoxicated, but are not shown drinking.
Page last updated January 9, 2020
Joker Parents' Guide
Arthur makes a good point when he notes that civility has fallen by the wayside - nobody imagines how it feels to be “the other guy”. What can you do to improve your interactions with others? What do you think more people should try to do in order to improve public discourse?
Arthur is a complex character, who is simultaneously deranged, observant, and somehow apolitical. How do you interpret his behavior? Is it merely the result of mental illness? Criminal tendencies? Childhood trauma? How would you rationalize your behavior if you were in his shoes?