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Joker: fear of violence leads to controversy before release

by Tatiana Torres

Joker, starring star Joaquin Phoenix, hit theaters on Friday, Oct. 4, and the film has already caused a backlash.

Whether you are a hardcore DC Universe comics fan or are not a comic book lover at all, the odds that you have heard about the new Joker movie premiering are pretty high. Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the iconic Batman villain, has been a topic that has sparked heated controversy before even hitting movie theater screens. 

Caleb Dalmau, freshman accounting and finance major, who has been a Batman and Joker fan ever since he was a child, weighed in on this topic.

“Once I heard a new Joker movie was being released, my initial thought was that there was no way that this could be a good movie because I was not a fan of the last few DC movies,” said Dalmau. “Nevertheless, I will be seeing Joker as soon as it is released and I am hoping it will exceed my expectations.” 

 Concern, fear and the movie’s ability to inspire violence have only grown in the weeks leading up to the release of the movie. The U.S. military stepped in by sending an email and releasing a memo warning servicemen about a ‘“potential risk” of mass shootings at screenings of the film based on what has been published on social media. 

The posts on social media reference the replication of the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. “This presents a potential risk to DOD personnel and family members, though there are no known specific credible threats to the opening of the Joker on October 4th,” said the email.

Warner Bros. has also issued a statement regarding concerns over the film. “Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” the company said. “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.” 

The real question at hand is if this comic book inspired movie could lead to real-world violence and harm? The argument that movies or entertainment directly causes violence is not a new topic, nevertheless it has never been definitively settled.

Francisco Velázquez, junior criminology major, has been a fan of the Joker ever since The Dark Knight movie was released. He anticipated that the movie was going to be a controversial topic as soon as it was announced because of the fact that “the Joker is portrayed as someone with deep psychological and emotional issues and I feel like people who suffer from the same issues as the Joker tend to view him as some sort of idol, which should not be the case at all. The Joker is meant to critique people similar to the character, but it is understandable how some have interpreted the movie to be some kind of celebration of them,” said Velázquez.

Faviola Báez, sophomore nursing major, expresses how she felt when she read about the movie’s controversy. “I did not expect this movie to be surrounded by so much controversy before it is even being released everywhere. I certainly did not expect the military to send out an email and a memo addressing how people felt about the movie,” said Baez. 

“Once I read more about it, I understand how some people are concerned about the movie inspiring violence but we cannot let this fear keep us from enjoying ourselves. I am very excited to watch the Joker as soon as it comes out, but at the same time I will be wary of my surroundings and identify where the nearest exits are.”

Despite these concerns, Joker has received mostly positive reviews, currently holding a score of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. It got the top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, which confirms its potential as an awards contender, which, with a few noteworthy exceptions like Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning Joker performance and Best Picture nominee Black Panther, is uncommon for movies inspired by or based on comic books. Critics have complimented the film for its gritty, realistic portrayal and Phoenix’s performance.

Tatiana Torres can be reached at tatiana.torres@spartans.ut.edu

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