Joker Director Didn’t Realize How His Movie Would Touch People Regarding Mental Health Issues

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker in clown makeup
(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

Has any other 2019 movie been more buzzy than Joker? The intimate drama inspired by the famed comic book villain broke massive records at the box office and became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. It’s been a polarizing movie critics and audiences love to discuss. Oh, and it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Why is Joker such a phenomenon?

While speaking at a screening of Joker at the Landmark in Los Angeles (via TheWrap), director Todd Phillips talked about the aspect of the film that he’s been approached the most about since the film hit theaters. In his words:

What I didn’t have the benefit of knowing then was really how that mental illness through-line would affect people. I had so many people come up to me, write me emails or write on Instagram, about you know, ‘I have a sister who is schizophrenic and I watched your film and I realized I need to be more patient with her. I need to be more understanding.’ Some people will ask if I feel vindicated by the box office … but honest to God, it was never about that. We wanted to make something meaningful.

When Todd Phillips set out to make Joker, he wanted to make a movie about the “power of kindness” in a society that he feels lacks empathy. But he had no idea that the film’s most important subject matter to people would be its focus on mental illness. Since the movie’s release, he’s been flooded with messages and conversations with fans about their association with the movie.

In Joker, Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck's descent into madness has a lot to do with the cruel world he lives in, along with his own mental health issues. It looks like fans have certainly been affected by Todd Phillips’ intended message to look at other people in a different light the next time they interact with someone.

Todd Phillips touched on how he thinks the Joker’s success will make it out to be a blockbuster, but he says that was never his motivation for making the movie. It wasn’t about stamping a highly recognizable name on a movie title – the director and co-writer felt he had something unique to say through the lens of the Clown Prince of Crime.

But not everyone find Joker to be the kind of healing release Todd Phillips describes. When the movie hit theaters, it caused a stir and controversy over its violence. And some have felt it creates empathy for the people behind the mass shootings that have made headlines in the U.S. in recent years. Or it's just overrated for its huge success.

Joaquin Phoenix has been heavily praised for his turn as The Joker. The actor lost an incredible 52 pounds for the role and improvised some of the small-budget film’s most memorable sequences. Phoenix recently won a Golden Globe, SAG and Critics’ Choice Award for playing Arthur Fleck, and he could very well be on his way to nabbing his first Oscar win.

Joker is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital now.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.