This past Sunday night, Hollywood elites gathered to pat one another on the backs. It was the annual self-congratulatory spasm known as the Oscars. This year the winner of the big prize, the Oscar for Best Actor, was for his role as Arthur Fleck in “Joker”. The Oscars celebrate the best in film, which is perhaps the American people’s favorite way to unwind.
Movies are important. In a cultural sense, I think they are much more important than the actors themselves. Though spiritually, the actor is Imago Dei, for whom Christ shed his blood. But, the cultural impact of a film is far surpassing that of the individual life of the actor. Movies tell stories, which propels culture in a given direction. Stories give us identity. They are the meta-narratives that help us make sense of the world.
The Gospel is a story. The greatest ever told. It is true and it is one we can weigh against all the world offers, in order to make sense of our time and place here.
If you choose to watch “Joker”, I would advise you to view it through the lens of the Gospel. That’s what I did, and I have some insights to share. “Joker” is about a mentally ill man who suddenly has what little stability there was in his life taken away. In a moment of time, the glue which held together his fragile psyche came unstuck. The rest of the movie shows it unraveling, as he succumbs to the forces of darkness ever pulling at his sleeve. There, but by the grace of God, go I.
I left the theater feeling sorry for him. Not because he had redeeming qualities; he didn’t. But, rather, because I know that the kind of personal traumas he sustained happen all too often to real people. In the cinematic universe “Joker” occupies there is no redemption, no cross, no Jesus and no hope.
If you listened to Phoenix’s acceptance speech, you will detect hints that he has been dealing with some of these issues — matters of ultimate importance. Many of his remarks could have been delivered during a Sunday-morning sermon. I do not think Joaquin is aware that he’s treading on Conservative, let alone Christian, ground, or purposefully espousing our ideals. He is not one of us. But I found myself strangely optimistic, and warmed by his sentiments.
There is much in his speech of value to unpack, and I invite you to join me as we review what he said. He began humbly in gratitude for the award, and the acknowledgement that acting in films has given him “the most extraordinary life.” In the self-aggrandizing setting of the Oscars, Phoenix chose to be thankful and humble. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Next he said “… we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity. I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world.”
These too are Conservative talking points, because we believe in individual liberties, personal responsibility and stewarding the good earth that God gave us. Certainly, Phoenix means to imply more than he says, but the sentiments themselves are true, in their proper contexts. Where he speaks the truth, I agree with it. I cheer it on!
Later he commented that, “I think we fear the idea of personal change, because we think we have to sacrifice something, to give something up.” Right again! Most people will not change for the better, because they are too enamored with lesser things. Most will never serve the true God, preferring paltry idols and feckless distraction. Doing the right thing will cost you something. It cost God the life of His only begotten.
He continues, “But, human beings at our best are so inventive and creative and ingenious. And I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”
I really feel that Phoenix is casting a better vision for the future, one that couples serious personal responsibility with the prolifically gifted minds God gave humankind. God expects us to be problem-solvers, motivated by love, who look for ways to promote one another and make a better life for our children.
We are made in His Image, and we bear His creative aptitude. So we should use these gifts in the arts, sciences, media, literature and all other human excellencies. We can use them all to worship God, and make a more godly culture. That is the very philosophy behind my work at GodlyCulture.com, and a big reason I wrote my book.
Now this is where it gets personal. When “Joker” came out there were a lot of wokescolds who condemned it as incel propaganda. If you are not familiar with the term ‘incel” it refers to those straight, white males who are involuntarily celibate — in other words they can’t find a mate. Among the criticisms were claims that the film glorified violence toward women. I admit, the movie is graphically violent, and some of that was directed toward women. But the point is that the Hollywood elites were trying to use cancel culture to besmirch the film.
In general, I think it is a form of poetic justice when the Left attacks itself. It’s a spectacle to watch them try to out-woke each other. But nobody wins. It is lose-lose, because it promotes victim mentality and makes a virtue out of being offended. Joaquin answered his accusers, on stage, in public, while receiving the highest honor Hollywood can bestow. He simply advised them, “…I think that’s when we are at our best: When we support each other, not when we cancel each other…”
So, you see, he took it personally. Cancel culture came for him this time, and he was able to see it for the monster it is. When the Left attacks the Left, they start to see, in stark, widescreen Panavision, that Conservatives offer a saner and safer world. In his words, “…when we guide each other toward redemption, that is the best of humanity.” Mr. Phoenix, I begin to think that you are ready to meet King Jesus.
The problem with the Left is it always means more than it says. It cannot partner with Conservatives on any common ground, because it prefers ideological uniformity over shared cooperation with the less-than-woke. As Conservatives, we cannot afford no such frippery. We must partner on good, in the arena of shared common ground, even with people who disagree on every other plank in our platform.
If a pro-life Democrat will help us pass legislation helping to protect the unborn, but does not share our views on traditional biblical marriage, should we turn down that help on the grounds of imperfect ideological purity?
Not everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Phoenix is food, but for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear there is a lot of “Truth” in his Oscars acceptance speech we can stand on.
Daniel Venturino is a culture commentator and author of The Battle for Main Street: How to Reclaim America’s Heritage.