Joaquin Phoenix Defends ‘Joker’ as Examination of ‘Malevolent Person’

“Why would we make something, like, where you sympathize or empathize with this villain?’ It’s like, because that’s what we have to do,” actor tells Vanity Fair

Joaquin Phoenix responded to the polarized reaction from critics surrounding “Joker” and whether the film sympathizes with a damaged shut-in of a supervillain.

In an interview with Vanity Fair that was published on Tuesday, Phoenix explained why he felt it was necessary to take the part of Joker’s alter-ego, struggling comedian Arthur Fleck, saying that he never anticipated the reaction to the film to be “smooth sailing.”

“It’s a difficult film. In some ways, it’s good that people are having a strong reaction to it,” Phoenix said. “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?’ It’s like, because that’s what we have to do.”

Phoenix walked out of an interview when asked by a critic if the film could incite viewers of the film who have a “mass-shooter mindset.” Families of the victims of the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado which took place at a theater during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” sent a letter to Warner Bros. voicing their concerns about the film and its potential impact on gun violence.

In the interview, Phoenix elaborated on the debate over the film and why he wanted to explore such a character.

“You can either say here’s somebody who, like everybody, needed to be heard and understood and to have a voice. 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,” he said.

He continued: “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. Whatever issues you may have. It’s too easy for us and I felt like, yeah, we should explore this villain. This malevolent person.”

Director Todd Phillips also spoke to Vanity Fair about the film’s dark tone and violence.

“We’re making a movie about a fictional character in a fictional world, ultimately, and your hope is that people take it for what it is,” Phillips said. “You can’t blame movies for a world that is so f—ed up that anything can trigger it. That’s kind of what the movie is about. It’s not a call to action. If anything it’s a call to self-reflection to society

Check out Phoenix’s full interview in Vanity Fair here.