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.)

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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.

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DISCUSSION

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