The blockbuster film "Joker" is breaking box office records, taking in almost a quarter billion dollars since it opened Oct. 4. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a comic turned deranged, violent killer. Before it opened, there were fears it would cause a repeat of the mass shooting at a theater in 2012 following the opening of "The Dark Night Rises."
To everyone's relief that didn't happen.
But now, it's prompted at least one commentator to sound the alarm about the rise of the quote "demonic anti-heroes," a dark character whose evil deeds are somewhat mitigated by our familiarity with them.
John Stonestreet of Breakpoint Commentaries wrote of the Joker, “This criminally psychotic clown has taken on a life of his own ... Spreading fear of senseless killing in the real world—a world where, tragically, such crimes are already far too common ... His character raises [questions] about the state of our culture."
So is the movie a harmless piece of escapism. Or does it signal something very wrong with our culture? One that praises and worships evil?
Author and theologian Alex McFarland says, "I would say young people being enamored with antiheroes and murderers and really delusional people and characters is really indicative of the breakdown of the family and the breakdown of the culture. So there's a lot we can say about that, but they relate to antiheroes because they feel alienated."
And that trend of the breakdown in cultural norms is also found in our schools.
McFarland says, "For much of our nation's history, art, literature and music was affirming of character and values. Public school teachers, once upon a time, were encouraged not to give their kids books that would encourage treachery or villainy, because we believed that character and morality really were positives things to affirm."
Years ago, we would never see a character like the Joker star in his own movie. Stonestreet calls it a natural progression from Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs," to even today's "Maleficent," starring Angelina Jolie.
But Michael Wear, author of "Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America," doesn’t draw a direct link to the breakdown in the family.
"I do think that there is a difference between an anti-hero," and a movie "that actually gives a light to something important about human nature," Wear said, "which is that no one's perfect and that you can accomplish worthwhile things and have deep sin and brokenness in your background."