On 16 July 2012, during a screening of The Dark Knight at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, 25-year old James Eagan Holmes entered the sold-out venue and shot indiscriminately into the crowd with a variety of firearms, killing 12 people and wounding 70 more. He would eventually be arrested and sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences without parole, and during the inquiries into what prompted this tragedy it was found that Holmes was a fan of superhero comics, including Batman. It was also initially reported that he had dyed his hair green and referred to himself as the Joker – these claims were later refuted, but the image had already caught on and became what people held onto. What was fact though was how Holmes’ pre-recorded manifesto of pure chaos was eerily similar to that of the Joker character from The Dark Knight, and there are even reports of him imitating the character’s distinct voice to people in the run-up to the shooting.
With all of this in mind, it should come as no surprise that some of the Aurora shooting survivors, with their families and friends, have penned an open letter citing concern about Warner Bros.’s upcoming Joker film from writer/director Todd Phillips. This new cinematic iteration of the iconic Batman villain has drawn massive praise thus far, but its also been steeped in controversy as early viewers expressed concern that it could be seen as a glamorization of mass murder.
In the film, the titular character played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a lonely, disenfranchised man who turns to extreme violence to exact revenge on those who he feels have wronged him. Critics of the film have pointed to the character’s similarities with the dangerous incel fringe culture as being potentially troubling in a country that is suffering from a mass shooting crisis.
Up until recently, the film’s creators hadn’t really addressed the criticism much. In fact, when asked about the issues initially, Phoenix instead just walked out of the interview. But now in response to the Aurora survivors’ open letter, which called on Warner Bros. to “use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns,” the Hollywood studio has finally issued a formal statement in which they make it clear that their movie does not glamorize or endorse mass public violence.
Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies. Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic. At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.
On top of the statement, both Phillips and Phoenix have also now defended their film with the director telling IGN that “To me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated. If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”
I really think there have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven’t even seen the movie and they don’t need to. I would just argue that you might want to watch the movie, you might want to watch it with an open mind. The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message.
It’s so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can’t.’ It’s making judgments for other people and I don’t even want to bring up the movies in the past that they’ve said this about because it’s shocking and embarrassing when you go, oh my God, Do the Right Thing, they said that about [that movie, too].
Phoenix pointed out that disturbed individuals would be able to find endorsements of their actions anywhere, not just a movie.
Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.
I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. I just don’t think that you can function that way,
Personally, I can definitely see the argument for both sides, but I’m holding back any hard opinion on it until I see for myself how Phillips and Phoenix tackle this sensitive subject. Luckily, that won’t be too long with Joker scheduled for release on 4 October worldwide. There’s one location though where Joker will seemingly not release, and that’s at the Aurora cinema where the 2012 shooting took place. And that is a very good thing if you ask me.
Last Updated: September 25, 2019