Since its debut on October 4, the “Joker” movie has been receiving backlash in the news, as critics claim the film makes a mockery of mental illness, leading to dangerous real-world consequences.
However, these accusations are founded in a collective anxiety, or groupthink mentality, over the current socio-political state of our country.
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Examples of this united disdain for the movie include criticisms of Director Todd Phillips’s rendering of Arthur Fleck’s story, which argue that he is “just teaching other life-hating clowns how to get noticed,” as Jackson Elliot from The Natural Interests writes.
James Moore from The Independent also rebukes the portrayal of the movie’s protagonist, exclaiming that “Joker relies on a tired and destructive trope: child abuse leads to mental illness that is murderous in character.”
The monumental impact of these collective concerns has driven Warner Bros. to issue a statement in defense of the film and in regard to its alleged real-world implications. On September 24, they wrote:
“Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
Phillips himself had his own choice words to say in response to the criticism during an interview with Vanity Fair, angrily proclaiming that “You can’t blame movies for a world that is so fucked up that anything can trigger it.”
Despite its crude nature, Phillip’s claim may not be too outrageous. Of course, there are real-world parallels in the movie. As Jordan Ruimy from the World of Reel puts it, “societal alienation has never felt more current than it does today.” However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie is a danger to society, nor a green light for violence of any kind.
Instead, these accusations from crazed critics in a sea of negative reviews may just be in an effort to gain publicity, reinforcing a groupthink mentality of disdain for the movie before fans even roll into theaters to see it for themselves.
But what is “groupthink” exactly? Here is Merriam Webster’s definition of the phenomenon: “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”
The groupthink ideology can be seen in the shared worriment that the mentally ill may see Arthur Fleck as some sort of dystopian role model, following in his footsteps to embark on a murderous rampage.
In reality, this assumption of those struggling with mental illness is entirely insensitive, as even psychologists, such as neuroscientist Bobby Azarian from Psychology Today, have concluded “that the movie’s character study will educate society about mental illness,” and that only after he was “bullied, beaten, and humiliated by others” did Fleck choose to implement violence.
It is unfortunate that the public’s perception of “Joker” may be influenced heavily by the media, and instead it should be encouraged that they draw conclusions and opinions on the movie independently, as the film, in Ruimy’s words, is an “indelible statement of current-day socio-political anxieties” that is real, disturbing and definitely worth a watch.