Russell D. Moore on Why I Didn’t Watch “Joker”

Several people, knowing that I am a DC Comics fan, asked if I had seen the new film, Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. The answer is no, for lots of reasons.

For one thing, any review or an IMDB search reveals rather quickly that the sort of graphic violence in this film is less like the sort of violence seen in appropriate film and literature and more akin to the ancient gladiator games, rightly rejected by Christians (perhaps I will write more on this later). But, secondarily, I didn’t see the film because I’m not a fan of the anti-hero turn in some genres of this medium.

Joker is, of course, in line with the “darker” turn in the comic realm rooted in 1990s deconstructions of the superhero idea such as Alan Moore’s brilliant Watchmen and The Killing Joke alongside Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The grittiness and realism of these works were a necessary corrective to the lingering effects of the silliness of some of the Silver Age’s heroes—especially the 1960s television series Batman. People familiar with the Batman mythos rightly saw that the character was not a wisecracking comedic figure, but a tortured orphan who dressed as a bat precisely because such would strike terror into the “superstitious and cowardly lot” that are criminals.

Media critic James Poniewozik traces the rise of the “grim, morally challenged” anti-hero to the post September 11 era in which heroes such as Batman and Superman often were modeled more after Jack Bauer than their previous iterations. As Poniewozik puts it, “Superman, Batman, and company have escaped countless scrapes over the decades; they have been imprisoned, tortured, dipped in acid, killed, and resurrected. But they have never been conquered so thoroughly as they were by the anti-hero ethos.”

I tend to agree. Joker, of course, goes a step beyond anti-hero, to a film built around the villain, in the absence of his nemesis altogether, tracing the origins of the character’s madness. In the DC universe, though, Joker is one character who has famously resisted an origin story, with several contradictory explanations as to the roots of his villainy. Such is the background of the forthcoming Three Jokers series by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok. The ambiguity behind the Joker’s ultimate origins and motivations is, I think, quite appropriate given the way the character represents the ultimate irrationality and self-destructiveness of evil. Indeed, the Bible speaks in precisely such terms, of “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7).

For the Christian, evil is not something explained with a simple syllogism, but instead provokes the question repeatedly, “How long, O Lord?” along with the ongoing imperative to oppose it. And, as with the character of the Joker, the more we see evil for what it is the more we see how irrational and self-defeating it is. The devil is the one who “rages all the more because he knows his time is short” (Rev. 12:12).

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Russell D. Moore