By Noah L. Caballero
The Joker Hysteria: Are the Media the Clowns This Time?
Joker is the 2019 film adaptation of the infamous villain of the same name. Directed by Todd Phillips, it stars actors Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, and Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz. The movie is being touted as a much more adult interpretation of the classic villain, and is quickly garnering interest amongst moviegoers.
Joker is projected to make about 80 million dollars in its opening weekend, which is huge for an R-rated movie. Having already won the Golden Lion award, the most prestigious award in the Venice Film Festival, it was generally praised by critics for Joaquin Phoenix’s nuanced portrayal of the age old character, and for the movie being a worthy character study of the Joker. Despite the glowing reviews, it wasn’t saved from the controversy that followed it.
After the film premiered in TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), the media went on a storm over the film, calling it “incel friendly” and stating that it “glorified violence.” In an age where mass shootings are unfortunately a common occurrence in the U.S, this raises significant concerns.
In a recent interview conducted by the Telegraph, the interviewer Robbie Collin, who described Phoenix’s Joker as “an unstable, self-pitying loner with a mass-shooter mindset,” asked Phoenix whether or not Joker is able to inspire violence amongst audiences. Collin wrote, “So when I put it to him — aren’t you worried that this film might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results?” Collin reported that question caused Phoenix to leave the room, only to come back some time later to continue the interview.
After reports of Phoenix’s walkout went viral, more have posed the question: “Is Joker a dangerous film?” Warner Brothers, the movie company behind the film, Phoenix, and Phillips have released statements saying that Joker does not endorse gun violence or violence in general (which quite frankly, is a no-brainer, as no major company would support such things).
In the newest development of the increasing hysteria, the U.S army widely distributed a warning to service members about the potential for a mass shooter at screenings of the film. The U.S army has also asked theater-going service members to “remain aware of their surroundings”, “identify two escape routes” when entering a theaters and to “run, hide, fight back,” in case a shooting were to happen.
In a separate memo, the U.S. Army’s criminal investigation division, reported that the Army received “credible” intelligence from Texas law enforcement officials pertaining to “disturbing and very specific chatter “ “regarding targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.”
Additionally, the theater in Aurora, Colorado that experienced the 2012 Dark Knight Rises shooting are not playing the movie in their theater chains, out of respect for the victims. This is completely understandable, though some affected by the tragedy have called the move unwarranted.
In an article by Movieweb, Mike Senecal, who lost his daughter in the shooting, stated that he “believed his daughter would have been able to separate the movie from real life,” and he believes “those who can’t are part of the problem.” Senecal went on to say that there ”were already violent people out in the world, well before Joker,” and says that “people who have a problem with the movie should just ignore it.”
So the question becomes, is the media frenzy over Joker is well-earned or harmful, not only for the movie, but our integrity as creators?
Censoring ourselves and others from the stories that people want to create. Yes, Joker is a cautionary tale about a man who takes a twisted sense of justice upon the society that has constantly beaten him down, but this has been done before, and often. See two seasons of The Punisher on Netflix, or the 1976 film Taxi Driver, which Joker takes inspiration from, among so many other examples.
Joker has been held to a completely different standard unlike franchises such as John Wick or anything Quintin Tarantino puts out, which have been known for their intense violence. Phillips has even called out the media about this notion, claiming it to be unfair. He had a point.
A possibility as to why Joker has been receiving such negative attention is because some people are stuck in the past, clinging to the outdated belief that comic books are children’s entertainment. In the past thirty years, comics have grown up to tell mature stories such as The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family, Saga, and Maus. The movie should’ve never been looked upon as a kids product; it is a mature adaptation for an adult audience.
But we can expect the media to continue to stir up panic over the movie. Panic sells.
Joker premieres in theaters on October 4th.