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We’re fast coming up on the two month mark since Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker shook the box office to its core. Records have been broken, an obscene amount of money has been made and Arthur Fleck’s journey has become a pretty big note in the 2019 symphony of pop culture. But if you ask Phoenix himself about Joker’s success, it’s ultimately the film’s empathy for its lead, and how that’s changed people, that makes it all worth it in the end.
Speaking about the film during a recent sit down, Joaquin Phoenix laid out the following feelings on what he sees as the film’s true victory:
It’s not the box office but the reception that’s been vindicating. It’s the fact that I get emails from people telling me that the movie made them look at their sister who suffers from schizophrenia in a different light. Ultimately, the movie is about the power of kindness and the lack of empathy in the world, and the audience seems to have picked up on that. It’s amazing that a movie that was supposed to inspire, as they put it, mass mayhem really has just inspired a bunch of people dancing down staircases. I think that speaks more to our times than anything.
Strangely enough, Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely right about the response that the public has had to Joker, both pre and post-release. What some thought was going to be a powder keg of a movie has turned out to be more of a meme machine and a photo opportunity than a menace to society. But on a more personal level, the response that Phoenix has seen to the box office smash speaks volumes on what sort of film event Joker really turned out to be.
After sharing this story with The L.A. Times, Joaquin Phoenix has ultimately shown that Joker is a film that’s surprisingly inspired both joyful imitation and more serious thought about how we treat those with a mental illness. Whether that was the intention or not is up for debate, for sure. But what can’t be argued is the fact that we’ve seen something positive come from the fallout of a grim and gritty film that, in its best instances, does inspire empathy.
You might not identify with Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck directly throughout his Joker journey, and to a certain extent, you’re not supposed to. Ultimately, you can feel sorry for the protagonist, but condemn his actions towards the end of the film; the ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.
But just as Joaquin Phoenix has pointed out the way people have taken to the film’s message, you can be inspired to empathize with people and give them the positive social energy they need. Or, if you need a pick-me-up of your own, you can head to the now famous “Joker Stairs” and have a bit of a dance off to brighten things up.
Joker is currently in theaters, but if you’ve already taken in the sights and sounds of Arthur Fleck’s Gotham City, head over to our 2019 Release Schedule, and see what the rest of year at the movies has in store.