In 1954, The Comic Magazine Association established the Comics Code Authority. Adhering to the code was voluntary and companies sent their comic books to the Association for a seal of approval. Marvel broke free of the association in 2001 and DC and Archie later followed. Here are some rules found in the code.
- Crimes shall never be performed in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals… In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
- Policeman, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
- All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted… Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
There are more rules regarding marriage, sex, and monsters. Joker is not a comic book, but a film and takes place in DC’s mythological Gotham. The Comic Magazine Code is long gone and Joker is rated “R” under the Motion Picture Association guidelines, involving rules and regulations. Regarding those early comic book regulations, Joker dances over the 1954 rules with graphic violence, horror, and profanity.
I’m not suggesting we need to go back to the days of the Comic Magazine Association, but many of us comic book fans grew up with those rules regulating our stories. It’s what we’re used to and when a movie is based on a comic book, we look forward to recalling a part of our childhood through a new medium with our children. The evolution of the comic book industry from page to screen includes a new level of intensity that we should expect. Before seeing Joker, I accepted this transformation and stayed clear of most reviews so I could watch Joker without prejudice.
My oldest wanted to see Joker, and we were planning on seeing it opening weekend, but the “R” rating was warning enough that I decided to preview it first. And so, I went to the theater alone to see if it was appropriate for my kids by my Comic Association rules.
And so, I’ll get to it. Is Joker appropriate for kids?
No. There you have it. All that to get to this point.
Here’s what you can expect from Joker if you are planning on taking kids. The violence is graphic and shows many people getting murdered by the use of closeup gunshots and stabbings. All the main cuss words are uttered and Arthur Fleck uses a notebook with photos of naked women pasted into the book.
The only thing about Joker that parallels a Comic Book is it takes place in Gotham and includes, although briefly, Batman’s parents and a young Bruce Wayne. Other than that, it more closely resembles Se7en, Taxi Driver, and Fight Club.
The acting in Joker was performance perfection. Joaquin Phoenix acting in the film is as great as you will find in film and he should be nominated for an Academy Award. His performance for an old acting student like me is worth studying. His plunge into madness is pure art and the way he was filmed struggling to ascend stairs at the beginning to his celebratory dance down the stairs into evil, was brilliantly played. However, brilliant acting is not enough for me to take my kids.
My struggle with the movie is actually not the violence. It’s that there isn’t anyone to be the opposing force against the Joker. The Joker is a secondary character in Batman’s world and I’m not a fan of watching madness unfold in almost every scene of the movie without a combative good. In the comic books and most notably in the graphic novel, The Killing Joke, Joker terrorizes Gotham with brutal and maniacal force, and is countered by Batman’s justly might. Joker and Batman are connected in a way unlike most adversaries. They both experienced a catastrophic moment that changed who they are. One chose evil and one chose good. There’s nobody choosing good in Joker. Which is the main reason I will not let my teen son see the movie. Glorifying villainy and mass murder no matter how artfully shot is not something I want my kids to experience while their minds are developing. Joker does not get my seal of parenting approval.