October 4 isn’t even here and already Todd Phillips’ movie about the Would-be King of Arkham is creating a real-life national debate.
As you can see here, here, here, and oh yeah, here too, we’re pretty exhilarated over Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck, but as we discussed a couple of days ago in the shadow of Robbie Collins’ (from The Telegraph [UK]) question that caused Phoenix to bluster and then bolt from his interview, this movie is bringing up some harrowing memories.
The families of the 12 murdered and 70 injured at the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises premier in Aurora, Colorado have come together to write a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff sharing their candid recollections of a man in body armor shooting up a theater claiming he was “The Joker.”
To most of us, this is way over the edge. I mean, that was real and this was a movie. Just let us enjoy it, right? Yeah, but to those 82 families who still live with the pain and loss of what that unhinged and non compos mentis kid did in Aurora, it’s all real.
To them, including this new movie.
“[The Aurora shooting], perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society, has changed the course of our lives,” reads the letter obtained by EW. “When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause.”
If you are a movie enthusiast of any level, at one point, you have cheered for the bad guy. Considering this discussion, the thought immediately comes to mind of Heath Ledger’s triumphant performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. While it’s an indirect connection, there was something in that portrayal that found its way in James Holmes’ twisted and unsound mind inclining him to want to be the bad guy.
Walking the Edge
The letter from those families goes on to discuss the “absolute pain and hell” they live with daily because of someone they loved went to see a movie. That’s all they did.
Joker takes a grim, pragmatic approach to delve into the psyche of what caused Arthur Fleck to become “Joker.” But is it too real? If you ask those families, maybe.
“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression,” the letter adds. “But as anybody who has seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility.
That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities … keeping everyone safe should be a top corporate priority for Warner Brothers.”
Some have even taken their trepidation further than a letter. The EW exclusive shares the story of Sandy Phillips, who lost her 24-year-old daughter in Aurora. She signed the letter and then went to THR for an interview calling the brooding and realistic movie a “slap in the face.”
“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,” she says.
That’s all it took to murder her daughter — one person, living on the edge.
Setting Things Straight?
Many achievements in entertainment have encountered blow-back. They fight back. Everyone has their say. And we all move on. Regretfully, the families in Aurora, can’t. That’s why their voices should be adhered; however, the film’s creators have a voice as well.
Writer-director Todd Phillips says it isn’t fair to link his #JokerMovie to real-world violence: “It’s a fictional character in a fictional world that’s been around for 80 years.” pic.twitter.com/NcT4d9fjOQ
— AP Entertainment (@APEntertainment) September 24, 2019
Now, before you go off on a sanctimonious rant, surely he is aware of the tragedy in Aurora. His point is that the character has been around for 80 years. That shooting happened in 2012.
It’s unfair to connect this movie to that murderous rampage. Phillips was knee deep in dick jokes with The Hangover trilogy then. When Warner Bros. got together with Todd Phillips, they were thinking of making a $1 billion movie. Yes, that is what they care about in Hollywood — it’s called business.
They do have a responsibility to consider the greater good, but Chucky was rebooted (and kicked quickly away into obscurity) but you didn’t see Amazon close their doll section to orders, did you? That’s what this publishing house considered initially: “We want to make a movie about an 80-year-old comic character, but let’s make it like he lives among us today.”
That’s how it starts. It’s an idea. Much like the path to destruction we encounter in real-life headlines, it all begins with one person having an idea.
The fault does not lie with the people at Warner Bros. or Phillips because of what some inane fool did seven years ago. Nor should people be angry at the families of the slain and wounded who live out that day in their imagination every year since. This letter is the cause of what one deranged loser did in 2012. In short, it’s his fault.
Time for the Responses:
“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong, he said. “And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”
“To me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated,” Phillips added. “If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”
“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.”
Where Does That Leave Us?
If you are a human of any sensitivity, your heart goes out to those families who wrote that letter. You can understand the deep, visceral pain that created the words to Warner Bros. However, if you are among the folks who can use both sides of their brain, you know this is only a movie.
Arthur Fleck, while maybe romanticized by some cinephiles over the years, is only meant to be realized and understood for the first time in this rendition. And that is why some people are scared — some people, like James Holmes, can’t separate fantasy from reality.
Meanwhile, in real life, people continue to kill others over politics, religion, bloodlust for money, crimes of passion, drugs, and oh yeah… complete fiction.
We will still see this movie? Definitely.
Should Warner Bros. give back a little to help continue the discussion about gun rights? Wouldn’t hurt .
Maybe your movie house will have a little extra security on October 4. Maybe someone in your theater will have one eye on the screen and the other wandering the darkness among the audience. That’s where we live.
Again, that is where we live.
We don’t live in Gotham. Arthur Fleck isn’t your neighbor. This film is meant to be an escape for some of us — to escape the job, the stress, and even some of our own neighbors.
For the families in Aurora, there is no escape, no joke. And that’s why their voices should be heard, if for no other reason.