It’s no secret that Joker has been a subject of controversy, particularly since the movie’s screenings at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Debate has unfolded about whether or not this take on the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin story glamorizes gun violence, and if the perceived sympathetic portrayal of the main character could incite violence in real life by inspiring people who struggle similarly to Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck.
The latest chapter of this discussion occurred earlier today, as five family members of some of the victims from the 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shooting released a letter expressing their concerns for Joker’s message, and how potentially dangerous it is, to Warner Bros, the studio distributing the movie. WB has now responded to these concerns in a statement (via Variety), saying:
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.
Just to be clear, these family members who signed the letter to Warner Bros are not calling for Joker to not be released. They’re simply asking that the studio examine the real world implications a movie like this could have. They also requested that the studio donate money to groups that aid victims of gun violence and “end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.”
From Warner Bros’ perspective, suggestions that Joker is depicting the eponymous individual sympathetically are false, and that while he is the main character of this story, folk should not walk out thinking that he’s heroic in any way. The WB statement also addressed the studio’s history of supporting work to combat gun violence with the following:
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.
It should be noted that the Aurora theater complex where the attack on a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises took place will not be screening Joker. Along with dying his hair red, it had been reported that the shooter, James Eagan Holmes, called himself The Joker to authorities. Holmes was sentenced in August 2015 to twelve life imprisonments without parole.
While the controversy surrounding Joker is unlikely to die down anytime soon, as far as overall critical reception goes, Joker has received a lot of positive reactions, currently ranking at 76% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Joker is also expected to do quite well for itself commercially, with current tracking placing it at a $100 million opening.
Set in 1981, Joker charts Arthur Fleck’s journey from beaten-down standup comedian to nihilistic criminal who unleashes a wave of chaos across Gotham City. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Marc Maron, Bryan Cullen and Brian Tyree Henry, among others.
Joker opens in theaters on October 4, and don’t forget to look through our 2019 release schedule to learn what other movies are coming out for the rest of the year.