So of course the new Joker movie is quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Not only because it has made a ton of money already, but because of the spin on the infamous character of Joker.
Through Joachim Phoenix's Joker we get to watch the origin story of a villain. He is the main character. We get to see the reasoning behind everything that leads down the path that, in this iteration, yields the Joker. There are several scenes and situations that we get to see that make us sympathize with Arthur Fleck. In fact, this sympathy the movie inspires in audiences for Arthur Fleck, the person that becomes the Joker, has kicked up a storm regarding whether that makes the movie prone to copycats, and thus dangerous.
Personally, I don't think there's any danger in the movie, at least in terms of anyone being inspired to commit crimes. There's scientific reasoning behind that, but I won't get into it in this article, because what I am interested in talking about is the narrative value.
Because from what I saw so far in the Joker (I have yet to get a chance to see the movie fully, but I've seen enough scenes to write this, I think), while we do get sympathy, it remains clear that what we're watching is a man turn into a devil, so to speak. And there's no sympathy in that. The connection and emotional reaction is taking place in the process, not in the result.
We sympathize with Arthur Fleck as he deals with terrible abuse. We even root for him when he tries to get out of the situations he's in.
But we don't sympathize with the Joker.
And I think that's an interesting duality in the movie that I'm really looking forward to experiencing in full in the theater.
How do you get sympathy for the devil, without actually sympathizing with the devil itself?
I think the secret lies in the lines crossed. We can root for a character committing crimes easily. But some rules need to apply:
1. The character must be in some way defending or self defending against threat
2. The threat has to be malicious
3. The crime must never spill over to innocent third parties.
If any or all of these rules are broken, the sympathy we feel and the rooting we have for the character diminishes exponentially.
And so it seems that this is how it happens with Arthur Fleck in the Joker. I'll go see it soon, so if that is not the case, I will absolutely let you know.
What do you think? How can we get audiences to sympathize with villains without actually identifying or approving of them?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 19, 2019
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