Although the new Joker film has been met with five-star reviews and a win at the Venice Film Festival, the upcoming release of the dark comic book drama has also been in the centre of some serious controversy. The film, which is an origin story about Batman's most famous rival, has been met with a mixed reaction from the public, many of whom are concerned about the real-life implications of the story. So why has there been so much dissension regarding the film? We have broken it down for you here...
What is Joker about?
The film follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man who takes care of his ailing mother and works as a clown for hire, all the while aspiring to become a stand-up comedian. Plagued by fits of uncontrollable laughter, often being triggered at the worst possible moments, Arthur attempts to blend in with society and to make himself happier, but never quite succeeds. Slowly letting go of his desire to fit in and turning to violence for the power that he craves, the film looks out how Arthur becomes the unhinged criminal, the Joker.
Why has there been so much controversy surrounding Joker?
Ahead of the film's release on Friday 4 October, plenty of people have voiced their concern that the portrayal of Arthur AKA the Joker in the new film could well inspire people who feel that they can relate to the character to commit violent acts in real life. In his review for the film in the National Review, Jim Geraghty wrote that he was "worried that a certain segment of America's angry, paranoid, emotionally unstable young men will watch Joaquin Phoenix descending into madness and a desire to get back at society by hurting as many people as possible and exclaim, 'Finally, somebody understands me!'"
Indeed, several family members of those tragically killed in the mass shooting during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora back in 2012 signed a letter to Warner Bros, voicing their concerns over the new film and requesting that the studio pay a donation to victims of gun violence. The Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of the letter, which read: "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."
Warner Bros. responded to the letter with a statement which read: "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. 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."
How have the Joker filmmakers responded to the controversy?
The director of the film, Todd Phillips, told The Wrap: "I think it's because outrage is a commodity, I think it's something that has been a commodity for a while... What's outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It's really been eye-opening for me." Meanwhile, Warner Bros released a statement to Variety which read: "A lot has been said about Joker, and we just feel it's time for people to see the film."
Speaking in an interview about whether the film's themes are a cause for concern, actor Joaquin Phoenix said: "I don't think it's the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right and wrong, I think that's obvious... I think if you have somebody who has that level of emotional disturbance, I think they can find fuel anywhere. I don't think you can function that way. The truth is, you don't know what is going to be the fuel for somebody and it might very well be this question but you can't function in life being like, 'Well I can't ask that question for the small chance that somebody might be affected by that question."
Security measures surrounding Joker's release
One national chain in the US has confirmed that they have increased security ahead of the film's release. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which has 40 cinemas, confirmed that they were adding additional security for the opening weekend, and have banned anyone to come in fancy dress. In a statement, they said: "We don’t comment on anything to do with operating procedures, but we are not allowing costumes, face painting or masks by either our employees or guests." Meanwhile, NYPD has also ramped up security ahead of the film's release, and have confirmed that there will be armed officers guarding cinemas. Manny Gomez of MG Security Services told NBC: "To send out the message they hey, we’re not going to tolerate any acts of violence. We’re here in uniform and in plainclothes as well, to ensure public safety."
Joker will be released in the UK on Friday 4 October