‘Joker’ gives a comic book villain a grown-up, nihilistic spin

Times film staff discuss the film “Joker” and the controversy surrounding it.


Even before “Joker” opened in theaters, the film sparked debate over its violent content, and a narrative that seemed to track with that of the alienated, white male shooter who’s become our real-life recurring horror story.

An exploration of a familiar comic book character who has scared us for nearly 80 years, this iteration of his creation story is dividing critics over the sympathy it seeks to elicit for the Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix.


Members of the Times film staff discuss “Joker” and the controversy surrounding it.

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Film critic Justin Chang says the film strives to have the sensibility of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but it’s “nastier” and more “nihilistic and brutal.”

Entertainment columnist Glenn Whipp calls the movie “a cynical and glib treatment of societal malaise,” and he says it’s neither as edgy nor as nervy as it presents itself.

And film reporter Sonaiya Kelley enjoyed “Joker” but found it “relentlessly dark,” and says that while she watched it, she kept checking the exits because she was afraid someone was going to come in and try to kill members of the audience.

With its premieres at major international film festivals, Warner Bros. is shrewdly positioning “Joker” as more artistically substantial than your average, blockbuster comic book movie, Chang says.

In our new cultural news segment, Indie Focus writer Mark Olsen and Kelley discuss how the impeachment inquiry has impacted late-night TV and celebrity culture.

And in the “Glenn Whipp Awards Minute,” Whipp shares his thoughts about Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” after seeing it at the New York Film Festival.


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