Since Joker first premiered at the Venice Film Festival, people had a lot to say about it. The film, which follows the evolution of a man named Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) from a guy who is troubled to a guy who is out here murdering people, has sparked concerns that it will inspire real-life violence. Joaquin Phoenix won a Golden Globe for the movie, and he's also nominated for an Oscar for the role. Here’s what all that controversy was about.
First, the plot
This movie serves as the origin story for the Joker character, who, as you know, goes on to terrorize Gotham and make serious trouble for Batman. Arthur is an aspiring comedian who suffers from an ambiguous mental illness that he tries to get treatment for.
Arthur faces a turning point and goes on a violent streak. He realizes he likes the power killing people brings him. The movie paints him as a guy who has basically gotten the short end of the stick that is life, but the violence he perpetrates makes him happy.
The potential issue
Critics pointed out that telling the story of a man like Arthur, who feels like the world hasn’t given him enough, which leads him to violence, feels a little too similar to real news events that happen on a regular basis in the U.S.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time's film critic, wrote, “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.”
But other critics wrote that the message of the film wasn’t nearly that cut-and-dried. Either way, the big concern from some is that Arthur is a little too similar to some men who commit mass acts of violence and specifically to incels, who take out their anger on women. After all, Arthur’s mom in the movie is pretty much blamed for all his suffering. And the movie may, in some way, make disenfranchised people feel more empowered to do violent things.
How the controversy spiraled
Once people who had actually seen the movie posted their issues, social media users who hadn’t seen it raised their own concerns, and it kind of snowballed from there.
The families of the 2012 Aurora shooting, where a gunman opened fire on a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, wrote a letter to Warner Bros. saying, “We’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”
Warner Bros. issued a response to that letter saying the following: “Make no mistake: Neither the fictional character Joker nor the film is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind.”
What the filmmakers have to say about it
Joaquin and the film’s director, Todd Phillips, have basically encouraged people to have their own reaction to the film instead of getting mad because everyone else is.
Phillips defended the movie at a recent press junket, saying, “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message. To me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated.”
And Joaquin has said similar things. He told the Associated Press, “If you don’t know the difference between right and wrong, then there are all sorts of things that you are going to interpret in the way that you want. I just hope people see it and take it as a movie.”
So...what happened with all of that?
Good question! The movie came out months ago and actually broke box-office records, but some theaters had to take special precautions and shut down showings because of credible threats of violence. That said, nothing major happened (that we know of), and the film has gone on to win awards.
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