A thunderous cloud continues to hang over Todd Phillips’ Joker.

Few films have caused such controversy in recent memory as Joker. 

Well, let’s be honest, there are so many films released every year that have proven to divide audiences and generate discussion. So, why has Joker been singled out so much?

Well, it’s because this isn’t some indie movie tackling a difficult subject – it’s a film dominating the multiplex right now, with the masses flocking to see it and dissect its messages. Films sold as blockbusters simply aren’t this confrontational, and in this sense, Joker feels unique. What Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix and the crew have done is sculpt a complex character study about mental health, violence – amongst other things – and package it as a comic-book movie to ensure a widespread audience. 

This is unlike any other comic-book movie out there, even when accounting Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, one scene has proven to incite the most anger…

Joker: Rock & Roll Part 2

There are many moments scattered throughout Joker that make for thoroughly uncomfortable viewing. 

NO TIME TO DIE | Trailer 2

Most of them stem from violence or Joaquin’s central character of Arthur Fleck exhibiting signs of pain, anguish and torture through laughs which substitute cries. 

Yet, it’s a scene in which the character transitions into Joker and triumphantly dances down some steps which has attracted the most controversy. On the surface, it may appear to be one of the least problematic sequences in the film, but the song choice is what makes it so polarising. 

As he makes his way down the stairs, the song ‘Rock & Roll Part 2’ by Gary Glitter anchors the visuals. As you’ll likely be aware, the once-popular musician is a convicted paedophile and currently in prison, but The Independent notes that he could make money in royalties from the film’s use of the track. 


Why was it used?

As you’d expect, those who recognised the song were instantly appalled with the decision. 

The fact that he may earn royalties from its use is disturbing, to say the least, but let’s cast that detail aside for just a moment and reflect on why they chose the song in the first place. We imagine that when they sat down they had a deep well of songs to choose from for the scene. It depicts Arthur at his most empowered up until that point, and the song had to reflect that. 

However, the desired effect isn’t to make us cheer along with Arthur, but to make us view his transition into villainy and murder as despicable rather than freeing. Todd and Joaquin clearly don’t want us to feel empowered or thrilled – they still want us to feel unsettled and uncomfortable at this moment.

The song carries new connotations in light of the performer’s crimes. We are witnessing the making of a monster, and in this sense, the song fits brilliantly. On the surface, we should feel overjoyed that a man we’ve seen beaten his whole life is finally comfortable, but Joker isn’t about surface, it wants us to dig deeper; this scene demands no different from us.

If it were just a triumphant pop song it may have had the undesired effect of lending the character a sense of power, but when the song conjures up these vile connotations in association with the artist, the results are more sickening than condoning. In contrast to the happy imagery, we should feel saddened and destroyed that he has sunk so low, and the song helps communicate this. 

Twitter reacts: A big mistake!

In terms of artistic decision, the song use makes a lot of sense when considered under this lens. 

However – and very, very sadly – the fact that the musician and criminal may profit from its use makes it a terrible shame, and in this sense, it would have been far better not to use the track at all and compromise with something else. 

Over on Twitter, the song’s use has caused a storm of controversy, with one viewer writing: “@jokermovie for your own sake, get that Gary Glitter song removed… Should not give him credit for working on this movie. Shameful. I actually feel bad for supporting the movie now.”

In a particularly controversial take, another weighed in: “Every single sports stadium in the US has played paedophile Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2 all the time for decades. He should be filthy rich already. Why protest now that he makes a bit more through Joker?”

However, the majority opinion is that it shouldn’t have been used because he could receive royalties, with one expressing: “One of the most interesting parts of the Joker controversy is that the one undeniably bad idea — sending a huge check to Gary Glitter when there was no need to — got a free pass. That’s what happens when dissenters haven’t seen the movie— it all happened on the basis of a trailer.”

We can see why they used it, but the repercussions of their actions have seriously backfired if his financial gain from the song’s use is true. 

In other news, which Joker performance is the best?