It’s no secret that a lot of Hollywood movies are packed with violence, and one recent movie that caught a lot of attention for its use of bloodshed was the Todd Phillips-directed DC movie Joker. As one of the few comic book adaptations to earn an R rating, Joker didn’t hold back on showing beatings, murder and more, which was among several aspects of the movie that was polarizing.
I was so familiar with that conversation because that conversation has happened around me, because it happened around American Psycho, and it’s always the same conversation. These Attacks always focus on some kind of art movie. They never focus on the extreme violence in mainstream entertainment. I love John Wick, but it’s far more violent and has far more mayhem than Joker or American Psycho. Actually, both of them have a small amount of violence. It’s just that that violence is disturbing.
Mary Harron delivered the above comment while speaking with Vulture about the 20th anniversary of American Psycho, which came out nine years after the original Bret Easton Ellis novel was released. Harron also mentioned beforehand that she loved Joker when she saw it as a jury member at last year’s Venice Film Festival, calling it a “brilliant piece of filmmaking” and a “great portrait of madness.”
On the one hand, Mary Harron does have a point when thinking about the amount of violence movies like Joker and American Psycho have compared to the John Wick franchise. Those movies certainly have the larger quantity of shootings and stabbings, as Keanu Reeves’ character leaves quite the body count in his wake when he’s on a mission, whereas in Joker, Arthur Fleck only gets violent a handful of times, making those instances all the more impactful.
On the other hand, there’s also the context in which the violence occurs that should be considered. While the John Wick movies don’t show off superpowers or include any truly fantastical elements, they’re in no way realistic, from the secret society of assassins that operates in the shadows to the amount of times that John has survived assaults that should have immediately killed him. Plus, John Wick’s stylized violence arguably has more in common with the cartoonish violence in Quentin Tarantino’s movies.
With Joker and American Psycho, while those stories are also fictional, they also take place in a reality quite closer to ours, with these shootings, stabbings and such looking more authentic compared to what you’ll see in the John Wick universe. So one could argue that those fewer violent scenes come across as harsher. And in Joker’s case, there was worry that it might inspire real-world violence in a time when mass shootings are more rampant by making Joaquin Phoenix’s character seem sympathetic.
Whether or not you approved of Joker’s handling of violence, the movie clearly struck a chord with a lot of moviegoers, as it made over $1 billion and walked away with numerous accolades, including winning two Academy Awards and being nominated in nine other categories. So it’s entirely possible that two decades from now, Joker might enjoy a similar standing that American Psycho does now.