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Starting with its early screenings at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, Todd Phillips' Joker has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. The upcoming movie offers an origin story for the titular Batman villain, and has garnered almost universal praise from early reviews, especially regarding Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Arthur Fleck. But there's also been some pushback regarding Joker, with certain critics believing it may inspire violence from real-life people who identify with the protagonist's life. Now the family of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting victims have penned a letter regarding these concerns.
The mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado occurred in 2012, and was the most deadly mass shooting in the country at th etime. An active shooter attacked a screening of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 70. The family of those victims has written a letter about their concerns for Joker's message, and how potentially dangerous they feel it is. What's more, they're urging Warner Bros. to donate to groups that aid the victims of gun violence. Its message is made clear, with an appeal to the filmmaking world, saying:
We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe.
The letter was signed by five family members of victims who died during the Aurora shooting. It was sent to the studio just this morning, with a copy being obtained by THR. Those who signed are fearful of the repercussions Todd Phillips' Joker might have on the audiences who flock to the R rated film when it arrives in theaters. It's a concern that has been raised by others ahead of the movie's release, although it's obviously more personal to the family of those who died in 2012's mass shooting.
The victim's families weren't the only ones involved with writing said letter to Todd Phillips and the folks running the DC Extended Universe at Warner Bros. For instance, Sandy Phillips (who is not related to director Todd Phillips_ is an advocate for survivors of gun violence, and helped those family members craft the letter, hoping to have the maximum impact on both the studio and the public. Phillips recently expanded her concerns over Joker's story and the message it might send to the general public. As she put it:
My worry is that one person who may be out there — and who knows if it is just one — who is on the edge, who is wanting to be a mass shooter, may be encouraged by this movie. And that terrifies me.
Concerns about Joker starting hitting the internet soon after it premiered at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. While Todd Phillips' DC debut has earned almost universal praise during festival screenings, other concerned moviegoers made their feelings known online. The fear is the Joker will embolden moviegoers who feel beat down by life, similar to Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck. Critics are worried that volatile moviegoers might identify with the struggles of the character, and be inspired to similar violent ways in response. During the movie, Arthur Fleck will ultimately transform into the iconic murderous clown, with those same critics hoping that the movie doesn't justify Arthur's descent into a criminal.
While the general public hasn't been able to judge Joker for themselves, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have been asked to address the growing controversy surrounding the movie's message. After Phoenix briefly walked out of an interview when posed with the question, the film's director has been more communicative about claims that Joker could incite violence. As he told IGN:
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.
Todd Phillips does make a fair point, in that the most vocal critics of Joker haven't been able to see the movie yet. Because as the reviewers have applauded the film's contents and discussed the possibility of Oscar attention, the movie's naysayers have drawn their own conclusions without being able to see a screening yet. But that will change when Joker arrives next month, likely starting more conversations about the movie's portrayal of mental illness and violence. Of course, the family members who penned the letter to Warner Bros. have their own personal connection to the controversial movie.
It remains to be seen how much the Aurora family members' letter will affect Joker and the artists who made the movie a reality. But their concerns have made a difference locally, as the Century Aurora and XD theater won't be screening the movie once its released. That venue is the remodeled theater where the 2012 shooting took place, taking special care not to trigger survivors and the victims' families by showing the highly anticipated DC blockbuster.
In addition to the subject matter of Joker, it seems that the character's connection to the Aurora tragedy is really affecting victims of the mass shooting. That terrifying event occurred during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, which was the conclusion of the most recent Batman franchise. The shooter's gear and weapons originally appeared to be a costume, before the terrifying reality of the event became clear.
CinemaBlend will continue to update you on all the latest Joker news, especially as the ongoing conversation about the film's contents continue. You can judge for yourself when Todd Phillips' DC debut hits theaters on October 4th. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies and our 2020 release list to get planning for next year's releases.