Joker is probably the best movie of 2019. A slow-burning character study that suddenly explodes into a flourish of violent and heady action, the film is the most exciting I’ve seen in some time. It’s good to see that I’m not alone: Joker has made history by becoming the first ever R-rated film to rake in more than $1 billion at the box office.
Variety reports that Joker is the seventh film of the year to hit the $1 billion mark, Unsurprisingly, the other six are either from Disney or Marvel. It’s the fourth Warner Bros. movie to do so, the others being Aquaman, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Joker was a relatively “cheap” film to make, with a budget of $62.5 million. From Variety:
“Outside of North America, where “Joker” crossed the $300 million mark, the film has seen notable box office success in the United Kingdom ($68 million), Mexico ($43 million), South Korea ($38 million), Brazil ($34 million), and France ($38 million).”
The website also mentions the controversy surrounding the movie’s treatment of violent themes, writing that it “elicited security concerns over its depiction of a mass murderer. It also drew outrage from the families and friends of survivors of the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting during “The Dark Knight Rises.””
Since its release, many people have been shot around the world for many different reasons—none of which had anything to do with Joker. To argue that a work of art is irresponsible because of its alleged capacity to inspire real life acts of violence is to implicitly endorse artistic censorship. An unstable person can be incited by anything. We have no idea what is going to trigger a sick mind.
Of course, historically, nothing has inspired more violence than the monotheistic religious texts. We continue to see it on a daily basis. Still, who would be in favor of outlawing the Bible or the Koran? Not me. Ironically, religious folks are oftentimes the first to call for prior restraint on the basis of controversial subject matter. They’re apparently unaware of the hypocrisy of their position.
Joker is a carefully made film that centers on character, not violence. The violence, while graphic, is clearly allegorical, a metaphor for social revolution. But even if it weren’t, even if Todd Phillips really did set out to make a film that glorifies murder, well, too bad. He has every right to do so. And if we care at all about liberty and free expression, we’ll defend that right vociferously. George Orwell showed us what the alternative might look like.