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Film & TV

‘Out of Context’ on ‘Joker’

Sam Adams of Slate complains that my reference to his observations about Joker and its “fitness for the present political moment” has him “taken out of context.” I am honestly mystified about the substance of his complaint, but the piece is linked there in order to provide the full context for anybody who is interested. Here it is again.

Here’s the passage in question:

What makes Joker unique is that it’s all of those things and also a movie that arrived at the Toronto International Film Festival having just won Venice’s Golden Lion, the top prize at one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, and will pass through another major fall festival, in New York, before arriving in theaters Oct. 4. It’s rare enough for all three festivals, which routinely compete for premieres, to share a film. For that film to be one about a Batman villain is as crazy as any of the Joker’s schemes.

Joker also happened to be honored alongside An Officer and a Spy, the newest movie by Roman Polanski, whose history of sexual assault allegations has returned to the fore in the #MeToo era, and both movies have been met by similar questions about their fitness for the present political moment. Is this really the time for a story about a frustrated, alienated white man who turns to violence, especially one centered around a character who was once dubiously blamed for a real-life mass murder?

For the first half of Joker, the only explanation for its victory in Venice seemed to be that jury president Lucrecia Martel, et al., had been huffing laughing gas. Directed and co-written by The Hangover trilogy’s Todd Phillips, the movie presents Arthur Fleck (an emaciated Joaquin Phoenix) as an isolated loner in an uncaring world, a victim of societal neglect whose route towards supervillainy is all but foreordained. In other words, the movie plays right into advance fears that it could act as a kind of incel manifesto, offering not just comfort or understanding to disaffected young men angry at the world but a playbook for striking back at it.

I don’t see how any of this is anything other than entirely consistent with what I wrote. But if Adams wants to fill out his complaint (beyond his announcement that he has been “taken out of context by Kevin Williamson in service of a bulls*** point”) I’ll be happy to take into account whatever I’m clearly missing here.


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