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The Panic Surrounding the Upcoming Film ‘Joker’

  • Joker is one of 2019’s most anticipated films, and even before it hits theatres the movie is already surrounded by controversy
  • Is the worry about the movie promoting gun violence justified or is it unnecessary?
  • Concerns have reached the Military and have warned service members about potential mass shootings 

One of 2019’s most anticipated films is Joker – a movie where star Joaquin Phoenix embodies the origin story of one of the most iconic arch nemesis Batman has. The psychological origin story had already received high praise during its debut at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. Phoenix’s performance garnered quite a few Oscar nomination buzzes because of his great performance in the film.
Joaquin Phoenix via Dave J Hogan/Getty Images/Forbes

In spite of this and the fact that it has yet to hit theatres, controversy has already started to surround around the movie, with some critics fearing that the movie might incite and inspire violence.

Granted, part of the panic most likely stemmed from the association of Joker as a character to the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which took place during a screening of The Dark Night. Rumors about how the shooter identified himself as “the Joker” surfaced soon after he was apprehended. And even though the report was later debunked, the association still stayed. 


Phoenix is not the first Joker the world has ever seen, and it may not even be its last. In fact, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the madman receives critical acclaim, and controversy didn’t touch Jared Leto’s cartoonish take on the character. But it is in Phoenix’s interpretation that has attracted widespread criticism, due to the reported realism of the film. 

Joaquin Phoenix is Joker
via CinemaBlend/Warner Bros.

Public scrutiny immediately washed over Joker when it was announced that it would examine the darker aspects of what made Joker into the twisted psychopath we know him to be. The movie is said to dive in the multitudes of disappointment, violence, and isolation that Arthur Fleck endures before it pushes him to become the movie’s titular character. 

That was already a red flag for some critics; the movie shows that Fleck’s homicidal tendencies are a result of enduring the maltreatment. In an age where mass shooting is not a stranger to the headlines, too frequently, motivations behind these shootings and other acts of violence are frequently tied to anger at specific groups, or at the world in general. Critics argue that Joker might incite sympathy in its best scenario, and promote violence at its worst.

TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek was in the Venice Fim Festival where Joker debuted, writing: “In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week. And yet we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn’t had enough love.”

This may just be the traumatized America that we’re hearing. With the constant fear of getting shot at any given moment, the association isn’t difficult to make. But is it really bringing awareness to pressing issues or is it just a knee-jerk overreaction? 


The connection between Joker and gun violence seems to be not only tightly intertwined, but also increasingly sensationalized; Phoenix recently walked out of an interview with The Telegraph after the subject of gun violence was brought up. 

The concerns have even reached the U.S. Military. 

The U.S. military has warned service members about the potential for a mass shooter at screenings of the film. The waning was raised when the military was reportedly alerted to the possibilities of violence by the FBI, after monitoring social media posts of individuals who referenced recreating the 2012 Aurora Colorado shooting. 

One army official was quoted, saying: 

“We do this routinely because the safety and security of our workforce is paramount. We want our workforce to be prepared and diligent on personal safety both inside the workplace and out.”

Director Todd Philips opined to The Wrap how unfair it was for ‘outrage addicts’ to attack his film as some sort of ‘controversy of the day.’

“I think it’s because outrage is a commodity, I think it’s something that has been a commodity for a while,” Phillips said in an interview conducted last week and published Wednesday. “What’s outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It’s really been eye-opening for me.”

via ScreenRant/Warner Bros.

“Isn’t it good to have these discussions about these movies, about violence?” Phillips added. “Why is that a bad thing if the movie does lead to a discourse about it? We didn’t make the movie to push buttons. I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like, ‘Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film.’ It wasn’t, ‘We want to glorify this behavior.’ It was literally like, ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it (expletive) Joker.’ That’s what it was.”

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