Film experts in Rochester: ‘Joker’ film does not glorify violence

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"Not drawn from the comic pages, but from the front pages."

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — “Joker” starring Joaquin Phoenix debuted this past Friday amid controversy pre-release. Mostly, that controversy centered about the movie’s supposed glorification of violence and mental health issues. Some even insinuated that violence could happen at the debut. Ultimately, nothing happened.

Even Brian Price an RIT visiting assistant professor for the School of Film and Animation, got caught up in the controversy.

“I told my wife I was going to go see it, and she said ‘make sure you’re sitting near a fire exit,’” Price said. “That definitely added a layer to the experience.”

He says that the film does not glorify violence.

“I think what a lot of people were concerned about was worthy of being concerned about,” Price said. “It’s just that this isn’t a movie intended to provoke violence, but it is intended to provoke conversations about the things that provoke violence. I thought this film presented violence in a way that was the antithesis of how you would usually find it in a blockbuster comic book film, which is slick, and fun, and exciting.”

As for the film’s content and message:

“There was nothing fun about this violence,” Price said. “It was visceral, shocking, and disturbing.”

Jared Case, Curator of Film Exhibitions at The George Eastman Museum agrees.

“I don’t think that it glorified violence at all. The representation of violence in art is old,” Case said. “The debate about that has been raging for centuries, not just during the time of film and TV. It does not endorse that kind of behavior, it’s often the type of thing we want to explore as people to try to understand why these people do what they do. It may not be a comfortable place to go, but it is someplace we need to go to understand other humans.”

“I also know that there were what 26 mass shootings this summer in this country alone, and that’s 26 too many,” Price said, adding his own perspective. “I don’t know if those perpetrators were born with mental illness like Arthur Fleck was, and I don’t know if they had their social services cut, or if they were affected by childhood trauma, or were emboldened by these growing social divide, but I know that all of those murders had one thing in common: None of them saw Joker.”

Both say this controversy says this kind happens often, citing “Clockwork Orange,” and “Taxi Driver.” But adds:

“It’s how these movies are reflecting the culture,” Price said.

“I think what this film is trying to say is that disenfranchisement, whether it’s the ability to get social services, or the disparity of income, or the way that people who have these resources view and treat people who don’t have the resource,” Case said. “It’s an issue that the movie is trying to explore this character that’s been in existence for 80 years.”

The portrayal of the Joker has changed in those 80 years, to reflect our society.

“We’re dealing with characters we’ve met before, and we’re dealing with settings we’ve seen before, but these characters and motivation factors are presented in a way that is starkly realistic. Not drawn from the comic pages, but from the front pages.

“The ‘campy-ness’ of Cesar Romero, the joyful chaos of Jack Nicholson, and then the nihilism of Heath Ledger. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is deeply rooted in issues that we’re dealing with today, particularly the growing social divide between the halves and have nots,” Price said.

“I think that is a profile of a disaffected individual in our society that someone could easily relate to a real individual who is troubled,” Price said. “The movie is asking us to understand that character, and understand the forces that are affecting him, not to identify with them.”

And new controversy is broiling:

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