It seems like everyone and their mother had some issue with the dark, edgy, and Joaquin Phoenix-y masterpiece that was Joker. Dubbed the UK's most complained-about film in 2019, according to The British Board of Film Classification, the movie has garnered flack for its "brutal violence," highly-debated status as a "rallying cry for incels," and portrayal of individuals struggling with mental illnesses. Joker's latest vocal critic? Fight Club and Gone Girl director, David Fincher. Last week, the film legend spoke out about his issues with the movie and Hollywood's changing content standards in a cinematic era defined by franchises in a new interview with The Telegraph, breaking down why he thinks Joker's portrayal of mental health issues are no laughing matter.
"Nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with Joker had The Dark Knight not been as massive as it was [in 2008]," Fincher said. "I don't think anyone would have looked at that material and thought, 'Yeah, let's take Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars,'" he added, referencing Robert De Niro's classic characters from 1976's Taxi Driver and 1982's The King of Comedy. Ouch.
Yet Fincher isn't alone in speaking out against the film's portrayal of mental illness. Following the interview, Screen Rant's Tara Ellwood elaborated on Fincher's statement explaining how Joker can be harmful. "David Fincher hits rather precisely on the problem when he calls Joker a betrayal - the film purports (and, arguably, earnestly tries) to be on the side of those who suffer mental illnesses," she wrote. "It attempts to speak for people who are often marginalized for something outside of their control, who might understandably be disenchanted with mainstream society and all of its expectations. The problem with Joker, however, is context. While Arthur can be a sympathetic character, it is impossible to divorce him from the legacy of The Joker as the ultimate evil in other DC comics and films."
Yet, like most takes on Joker, not everyone agrees with this analysis. In an OpEd for The Sydney Morning Herald, psychiatrist Kamran Ahmed says he was "blown away" with the film. "To those with mental illness, some aspects of the film will be immediately relatable. The loneliness, isolation, and 'constant negative thoughts' Arthur describes are problems my patients face every day," he wrote. "Joker searingly addresses some of today's most pressing issues -- mental illness and the disenfranchisement of the underprivileged, which should be our focus. It invites the public to try to understand mental illness and empathise with those suffering from them. It also challenges governments around the world to fund mental health services adequately and reduce inequality."
Any way you slice it, Joker is a highly contentious piece that both resonates with and alienates viewers. For years to come, Todd Phillips' film will be an important conversation starter, sparking an important discourse on contentious issues that tend to be overlooked. After all, Isn't that the mark of a successful work of cinema?