TIME

With this Joker, the joke is on us

LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY FIRST: JOKER, a stand-alone origin story about one of Batman’s biggest nemeses, has every right to exist. The movie, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, is marked by some unhinged brutality and more than a little hero worship of a villainous character. But art, of any sort, can’t and doesn’t cause violence. And if, as a culture, we’d historically made it a practice to censor violent, exhilarating movies, we’d have no Wild Bunch, no Bonnie and Clyde, no Pulp Fiction.

But movies are also purely of their time. We can’t watch movies in a vacuum, and no matter how entertaining they are, they can’t blot out the larger world we live in. By now you may have read that Joker—which opens in much of the world on Oct. 4—is a masterpiece, that Phoenix gives the most astonishing performance of the year, that the picture is a superior, more thoughtful version of our

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