Empathy for a Monster

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My wife and I finally got to see Joker the other night and it was – as billed – UH-MAZING!  I’d seen the initial images of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker months ago and I was skeptical since he didn’t look menacing enough. I’m not sure if I was expecting an attempt to surpass Heath Ledger’s performance, but I wasn’t intimidated by the images. And therein lies the point. The director’s point was not be menacing. The point was to be relatable. Someone you could empathize with. Someone you knew.

Without giving too much away, the joker started out, as many of us do, with challenges his life. Some small. Others that quickly morph into insurmountable issues. Joker is a methodical dive into what made the monster. 

Ledger’s performance (based on with Tom Waits from a 1979 interview) cannot be matched. Nicholson’s performance was 100% Nicholson. And that was the primary reason it worked as much as it did. Phoenix did something else. He struck a chord with those that perceive themselves as victims. Which is something we’ve all felt at times. It also has left some people feeling uncomfortable. Feeling empathy for a monster.

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently interested in artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, cycling, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive + surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and tattooing.

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