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TIFF 2019: This Fall Movie Season, America Is Losing Its Mind — Analysis

The world is falling apart, and this fall, the movies are all over it. Extracting trends from new releases often amounts to a fool’s errand, since movies come out at disparate moments for a range of reasons. This year, however, a collection of anxieties reverberate in many of the notable movies launching at the Toronto International Film Festival, and together they make the alarming case that America is losing its mind.

Consider the saga of “Joker.” Director Todd Phillips has elicited curious reactions for transforming the Batman supervillain into a mentally ill loner, in part because few could have predicted such a brooding psychological thriller from the director of “The Hangover.” But in its own disturbing fashion, “Joker” actually functions as a savage media satire about delusions of grandeur driven by a divisive climate that both empowers and mocks extremist views.

With a spindly Joaquin Phoenix at its center, Phillips crafts a vivid exploration of the way one man goes mad through his relationship to television and desire for fame. Yet rather than becoming the dapper comedian of his fantasies, the depressed clown becomes an accidental viral celebrity after his standup routine goes awry. Being the butt of jokes on local television turns him into a seething, anarchic maniac who delights at causing chaos. Despite the ‘70s backdrop, it’s no stretch to argue that “Joker” extrapolates the genesis of internet trolls from the inside out.

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