Joker is out Friday and will have no problem stacking up box office dollars off the strength of solid reviews, not to mention the fact that the film has seemingly not left headlines since it was announced. Particular emphasis, for some, has been placed on trying to connect the movie's depiction of its title character with real-world violence.
Understandably, both director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have pushed back against this narrative in their own ways, including an instance in which Phillips wondered aloud why the John Wick franchise wasn't met with the same scrutiny.
In a new interview with Vanity Fair, Phoenix doesn't opt for naming other franchises, choosing instead to point out the potential benefits of the film having already garnered such strong reactions in either direction.
"I didn't imagine that it would be smooth sailing," Phoenix said. "It's a difficult film. In some ways, it's good that people are having a strong reaction to it."
Adding to that, Phoenix continued, is the fact that any viewer could have a different perspective on the story. "You can either say here's somebody who, like everybody, needed to be heard and understood and to have a voice," he said. "Or you can say this is somebody that disproportionately needs a large quantity of people to be fixated on him. His satisfaction comes as he stands in amongst the madness."
Later, Phoenix recalled the internal debate he had while reading the film's script. Though the Joker is a "malevolent" character, Phoenix ultimately came to the conclusion that he was worth exploring, as the act of exploration is much broader than simply giving a new take on a Batman character.
"I was going through [the script] and I realized, I said, 'Well, why would we make something, like, where you sympathize or empathize with this villain?'" he said. "It's like, because that's what we have to do. It's so easy for us to—we want the simple answers, we want to vilify people. It allows us to feel good if we can identify that as evil. 'Well, I'm not racist 'cause I don't have a Confederate flag or go with this protest.' It allows us to feel that way, but that's not healthy because we're not really examining our inherent racism that most white people have, certainly. Or whatever it may be."
Phoenix added that audiences are capable of seeing "both of those things simultaneously," and that's the ultimate value of the film.
Elsewhere in Joe Hagan's profile, Phoenix discussed his early path to veganism, his occasional urge to "fuck up a bag of chips," the continued impact of I'm Still Here, and more. You know what to do for the full thing.
Joker, meanwhile, hits a theater near you this Friday.