Joaquin Phoenix is currently one of the frontrunners for Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Joker. We have seen him seemingly becoming more comfortable promoting the film and, perhaps, his campaign. I can’t imagine the studio would mind. It’s likely they’ll be putting resources into Joker’s Oscar run too, especially since it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. 

Joker opens on October 4 so Joaquin and director Todd Phillips are doing more press. Some of the conversation around Joker has been its message and its relationship to violence. Certain critics are concerned about what might be taken away from the story – and what harm could result. Just today The Hollywood Reporter reported that family members of victims from the Aurora, Colorado shooting have written to Warner Bros “sharing concerns about the upcoming Joker film and asking the studio to donate to groups that aid victims of gun violence”. Others feel like this is art, which is a reflection of reality, and that artists should not be responsible for those who twist and distort their work. It’s an interesting debate, an important discussion, and discussion is, supposedly, always one of purposes of art. 

So when Joaquin is asked about the film and its violence, whether or not he’s concerned about how it might be misinterpreted during an interview with The Telegraph, what do you think he did? Well, he walked out. Here’s how Robbie Collins, the film critic, described the exchange - via Gizmodo:

“Yet Phoenix doesn’t seem to have considered this kind of question at all. So when I put it to him – aren’t you worried that this film might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results? – his fight-or-flight response kicks in. Mine too, just about.

It takes an hour’s peace-brokering with a Warner Bros PR to get things back on track. Phoenix panicked, he later explains, because the question genuinely hadn’t crossed his mind before – then asks me, not for the last time, what an intelligent answer might have sounded like.”

Oh for f-cks sake. Here’s an actor who is notoriously reluctant to do press because he isn’t into the personal questions or the silly questions. So now he gets a valid question, about what the film is and isn’t trying to say, and he “panicked…because the question genuinely hadn’t crossed his mind before”. If that’s the case then he’s unprepared, which means he’s not doing his job. Or someone else didn’t do their job and prepare him. Because this has been a conversation now for two weeks, ever since Venice. It’s been written about in reviews, in think-pieces and tweets and essays and….my point is, this is not just happening in chat rooms. It’s happening in media, entertainment media. So to claim that he wasn’t prepared for the question … 

I mean it’s not like I don’t believe him. Because he’s Joaquin Phoenix. He doesn’t hang out on Instagram, sure. At the same time, there’s privilege in being ignorant, you know? In disengaging. In being completely unaffected by the subject matters that affect others. I just put my art into the world, you know? And then I go back into my art cave. 

Can art really happen though inside a cave? When you’re not interacting with the world? If art is supposed to communicate something to the world, shouldn’t the artist at least know a little bit about the world? 

This film premiered at a film festival. From the very beginning, they decided that Joker wasn’t a conventional comic book popcorn blockbuster Marvel styles, not a Movie but a Film. They took it to Venice and then they took it to Toronto, for prestige, to set the tone for a certain kind of cinematic experience – we made Art, with a capital “A”, in other words. Art to be studied and dissected, art for the cinephile. Art for the SERIOUS.

Well, f-ck. This was a serious f-cking question. And then Joaquin Phoenix walked out because he wasn’t ready for it. And then it took “an hour’s peace-brokering” with a publicist to “get things back on track”. Which is even more insulting, that the film critic came prepared to have a serious conversation about a controversial piece of art and then was not only ghosted, but had to probably beg and plead for the opportunity to have a serious conversation with the artist about his art! 

Celebrities are always talking about how they want to be taken seriously, treated like humans. Here’s a film critic who has taken this film seriously and wants to have a human conversation about what’s troubling so many humans, a narrative that’s explored in this very film, and he ends up pretty much getting dehumanised himself by having to renegotiate the terms of his f-cking job. Can celebrities please make up their minds?