This Short Documentary Unravels the Weird, Messy History of the Joker

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.
Image: Warner Bros.

The Joker is having a strange moment right now. A DC icon, one of the most charismatic villains to ever to grace comics and screen, potential incel idol and an incitement to violence? In 2019, he occupies all of these cultural positions, which can make parsing the character himself somewhat hard to parse. This documentary, running down the history of the villain, is a solid start.

Beginning with his origins in the comics and the influence of classic film on his design, the documentary by Birth.Movies.Death goes through the Joker’s strange transformation from comic diversion to nihilistic monster to nihilistic icon whose cultural influence transcends his source material. While the tone of this doc might not be quite as serious as some of the detractors of Todd Phillips’ film might want, it does an effective job of exploring the Joker’s transformative history in form and narrative function. It provides some insight into some of how we got to this strange place with the character, and it ultimately explains why he’s not going anyway any time soon. (Hint: It’s money.)


The Joker’s history is fascinating, and worth discussing for anyone interested in the villain or his new film. Pity the people who made that film don’t want to talk to us. 

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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.


Let’s be honest, this movie is unlikely to inspire anyone to go on a shooting spree that wasn’t already planning to go on a shooting spree. These games and movies don’t actually motivate shooters to take action or push them over the edge. At most, they can influence the window dressing a shooter puts on their attack.

To me, this movie is off-putting cause it looks real real dumb. It seemed dumb and unnecessary to me from the moment it was announced. The combination of fawning and pearl clutching it’s received from festival critics just gives me the impression it will be a real eye-rollingly self-serious affair.

The media out there that’s actually “dangerous” is the propaganda. People like Jones, Prager U, Limbaugh, Shapiro or Carlson who follow in William L. Pierce’s example by pushing fashy fantasies and conspiracy theories and spinning their fictions as truth.