“Joker” creates concern about violence


Warner Brothers Pictures

“Joker” stirred up controversy leading up to the release.

   Directed by Todd Phillips, the 2019 “Joker” thriller has caused social and political controversy among audiences. Set in the 1980s, the film casts a new twist on the popular DC comic book character Joker’s origin story. Known in the film as Arthur Fleck, played seamlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, the leading character suffers from several mental illnesses in a violent and unforgiving society. 

   Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it surpassed box office records collecting a whopping $96 million in the U.S. while also winning the Golden Lion during its premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. Critics are split down the middle, some saying the film is dangerous and irresponsible, while others agree it is a beautifully created artful piece that sheds light on the dangers of mental illness in a society that does not fully understand the gravity of such problems.

    The general concern of most critics was the possible violence that could be caused by the film’s messages, claiming it would not be the first time real-world violence was caused by a film. On July 20, 2012, in Aurora Colo., James Eagan Holmes walked into Century 16 movie theater during the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and opened fire on the audience, killing 12 and injuring over 70. Many claim Holmes was inspired by the Joker, wearing a clown costume and wreaking havoc on innocent citizens because of the character’s actions.

   Holmes was not wearing a Joker costume, many made this claim due to his red hair. However, it is reported that he dyed his hair red because his friend dyed his own hair blue, the Joker’s hair is also green. The fact that this tragic event occurred at a premiere of another DC film was simply due to the fact that an opening night of a highly anticipated film such as that of a Batman movie would be fully packed. His plan to shoot up the theater had nothing to do with the content of the film but simply what could get him the largest number of targets. 

   This has caused a stir in spectators with the new 2019 movie. During the opening weekend of the “Joker,” Los Angeles Police Department  increased security at theaters, even going so far as to post uniformed officers outside of theaters, which is a concerning waste of time and resources. 

    Additionally, those who say this particular film could cause mass shootings inspired by the violence in the film seem to be inventing controversy out of thin air, seeing as how the film depicts only scenes of small individual murders as opposed to a mass shooting. Though violent, the murders in the film are no more violent than those in other movies that have caused little to no controversy. “It has been less than a year since our last mass shooting by a white male,” said George Mason University Film Professor May Santiago. “Until gun laws start changing and there’s more of a monumental shift in American society, we should be defensive.” 

   In the original comics, the Joker is presented as a white male, and the color of his skin as well as his gender should have no effect on his portrayal in the movie. Unfortunately, tragedies are often used to blame societal problems on gun laws and white supremacy. They claim that Fleck getting away with violent acts in the movie is due to his race and gender, and if we had stricter gun laws, real world people like the character Fleck would be unable to purchase weapons to commit these acts. However, just like in the real world, Fleck committed his crimes with a weapon that was illegally obtained. 

   Critics are also concerned about the way people suffering with mental illnesses like depression or other disorders similar to Fleck will view him as more of an anti-hero instead of a villain. They worry people suffering from these types of illnesses will see Fleck’s actions on screen and think following his footsteps is okay. Phoenix’s portrayal of the character in the movie is the worst case scenario. Most people in the world today know the difference between right and wrong, and those who do not are not going to change their mindset because of a film. If they have that mindset, they are going to do it either way. 

   Fleck is a severely unstable man who has been faced with childhood trauma, abuse and neglect. The film is pointing out the things wrong with society, the things that drive criminals to such violent acts. The real world can push a person who is already on the edge to leap off, and most people do not completely understand what causes them to get to that point. It shows audiences to treat others with respect because no one knows what is going on behind the scenes of the lives of others. “Joker” is an artful representation of mental illness, poverty and other serious societal problems that are real in the world today, with masterful acting from Joaquin Phoenix, and a heavy but still honest underlying morality check.