Movies like Taxi Driver, Fight Club, and apparently Joker have needed to strike a delicate balance between showing why the destructive lifestyles chosen by their antiheroes are so alluring without glamorizing them. Whether they've pulled it off is for viewers to decide, not the filmmakers themselves. And since some critics have said that while Joker might be a good movie, it's definitely the story of a murderous incel, Warner Bros. is trying to protect their investment with a statement that Joker is not an "endorsement of real-world violence."
They go on to say that the Joker, a character defined by criminal insanity for 80 years, is not the good guy. All this talk about the moral responsibility of a filmmaker to not make murder seem therapeutic seemed to infuriate the movie's director, Todd Phillips, who doesn't understand why movies that revel in violence, like John Wick, are held to a different standard. OK, Todd. Here's why.
The comfort and happiness characters feel when they've finally fallen into the groove of their newly found dangerous ideologies can never seem to be un-glamorized enough. And maybe, like the trace amounts of caffeine that can't be removed from decaf coffee, there's no way to remove all the glamorization from the attainment of satisfaction through violence. There are people whose minds are primed for such retribution, and they're always going to find the glamour, even if it's buried in ten layers of moralizing. But for all its glorified hyper-violence, there's nothing ideological about the John Wick series. It's probably not helping much with our cultural glorification of gun violence, but there's nothing specifically in it that a person can latch onto emotionally. Weirdly, it feels more like a comic book in the way that people nowadays say things "feel like a comic book" than anything we've seen of Joker, which seems to be Taxi Driver with clown makeup.
There's a silliness baked into John Wick that almost ensures you walk away with more entertainment than you did with a moral lesson. None of it feels emotionally or psychologically tethered to any recognizable reality. It's kind of hard to identify with an assassin who's part of a vast international network of mercenaries who goes on a globetrotting killing spree because someone murdered the puppy that reminded him of his dead wife. But it's really easy to see yourself in a guy who kills because society has rejected him.
And that's the crux of the debate Phillips seems absolutely oblivious to. Maybe he made an absolutely incredible movie. Enough critics seem to like it, even if some have raised concerns. (And by the way, so has the U.S. military, which has warned soldiers that incels might try to shoot up theaters because of the movie.) But it's really, really not a good sign that the man who made the movie clearly does not understand that violence itself is not at issue. It's about the emotional connection the audience makes with it.
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