"Joker" starring Joaquin Phoenix opened in theaters on Oct. 4.

Joaquin Phoenix followed in the footsteps of Heath Ledger and Jared Leto in the new “Joker” film, which opened this past weekend. The film crafts an unsettling, yet enthralling tale that highlights the cruel and unforgiving side of the world we live in today.

Joker” debuted at $93.5 million in the domestic box office, setting a new opening record for an October film. It was directed by Todd Phillips, known for films such as comedies “Old School” and “The Hangover” trilogy.

This stand-alone origin story differs from past appearances of the DC Comics villain, including “Suicide Squad” or “The Dark Knight Rises” as it follows the transformation of Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian, to the joker we all know today.

Throughout the film, we see Fleck struggle to make it day by day in “a society that abandons him and treats him like trash”.

The film begins with Fleck being jumped by a cynical group of kids who saw Fleck’s job as a clown twirling a sign on the street as pathetic. This scene seeks to conjure feelings of sympathy felt toward Fleck by the audience. 

Eventually, Fleck gives up on the potential good of Gotham City. While his psychotic rampage is terrifying to witness, you can’t deny the power behind the movie’s climax of Fleck painting a bloody smile on his face, signaling the birth of the Joker.

Joker” is especially powerful with its portrayal of mental illness. Even small details in the film deliver a strong message on the issue.

The phrase, “The worst part about mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t” written in Fleck’s notebook of jokes creates a twisted homage to the way mental illness is dealt with in today’s society.

Fleck’s mental illness is also crucial to the film’s plot, specifically his relationship with Sophie Dumond, who is played by Zazie Beetz from “Atlanta” and “Deadpool 2”.

Their relationship ends up being imagined by Fleck as one of his delusions. This reveal creates suspicion about what’s being shown on the screen, and prompts audiences to question whether it’s concrete plot material or a subjective portrayal of Fleck’s mind.

Prior to its release, the film received both positive and negative reception. “Joker” premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival where it got an eight-minute standing ovation and won the Golden Lion for Best Film. 

On the other hand, families of the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” sent a letter to Warner Brothers Entertainment expressing their concern for the violent nature of the film.

“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility,” the letter said. “That’s why we’re calling on you use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”

Action was taken with increased security at movie theaters across the U.S., according to an article published by CNN. 

“Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” a Warner Bros. statement responding to the Aurora families’ letter said. “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the film, “Joker” is a psychological thriller that’s disturbing on all the right levels and bound to have you sitting uneasy the whole time.

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