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US Military Warning, Shooting Victims' Plea: Why Joaquin Phoenix's 'Joker' is Being Labelled Dangerous

But what is it about Joker that is so frightening that even film critics, who're supposed to uphold films that mirror society, are condemning it?

Jashodhara Mukherjee | News18.com

Updated:September 27, 2019, 1:38 PM IST
US Military Warning, Shooting Victims' Plea: Why Joaquin Phoenix's 'Joker' is Being Labelled Dangerous
But what is it about Joker that is so frightening that even film critics, who're supposed to uphold films that mirror society, are condemning it?

Joker, which is set to release on October 4, has easily become one of the most talked-about films this year. The film, directed by Todd Phillips, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character and has been labelled as "dangerous" and a threat to society by critics.

But why? We'll get to that in a bit.

The film offers a glimpse into the factors that led to the creation of Batman's iconic arch-nemesis, the Joker, in the DC comics. However, the Joker wasn't born this way and that is exactly what this film explores - the forces which shaped his psyche. Phoenix plays the role of Arthur Fleck, who lives with his mother alone and spends the initial years of his life craving for love and attention, which he never receives. His life is a vicious cycle of disappointment, injustice and isolation which eventually pushes him into the dark world of crime. Over time, he morphs into the villain we know him to be.

However, for some critics, the film is way too accurate in its depiction of harsh reality and hence needs to be nipped in the bud before it provokes further violence or instigates the underlying homicidal tendencies in viewers, thus triggering a chain of reactions which may be unprecedented.

Why have critics called Joker "dangerous"?

A film critic for TIME wrote, "In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week. And yet we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn’t had enough love." A film review on Refinery29 says, "It’s a poisonous story for a fraught time. Did we really need a brutal movie about a white terrorist figure who uses gun violence to enact revenge on the society that rejects him? And did we need it now?"

Film critic Alan Zilberman writes,

But what is it about the film that is so frightening that even film critics, who're supposed to uphold films that mirror society, are condemning it?

According to these critics, the film attempts to glorify a character who terrorizes society and those around him simply because they reject him; what's worse is that the film tries to justify Fleck's actions on grounds that he has had a hard life. But killing hundreds of people just because one didn't get love or wasn't accepted into mainstream society cannot, under any circumstances, be justified. The critics are essentially trying to say that America could have done without this theory or idea in 2019, given the history of mass shootings that have wreaked havoc in the country.

For instance, in 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a mass killing spree which resulted in the death of seven people. In a video on YouTube, he explained his motive where he said, "I don’t know why you girls are not attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.” If the Joker's acts are to be pardoned on grounds that he had been neglected all his life, the same principle should be applicable in Rodger's case, right?

Richard Lawson of the Vanity Fair opines that there has always been a tendency to delve deep into the psyche of the white man who has been driven to violent crimes, while the same "complexity of casualty" is not extended to non-white people who've been convicted of similar crimes.

In short, the movie has one central idea - that if the people around Fleck had treated him better, treated him like a human being, the Joker would never have been born. But, evil exists. It is omnipresent; there's villainy repressed in each human being which may surface if the triggers are potent enough. And that is exactly what Rachel Miller explains in a detailed post on Facebook. She writes that in a world where news of violent crimes dominates society, she doesn't want to watch the story of a good man who has been bullied into becoming a mass murderer.

As Lawson and other critics explained, there might be individuals who have been harbouring similar feelings of hatred and animosity towards the society and may feel encouraged to give in to homicidal tendencies, like Fleck, upon watching this movie.

Why have families of Aurora shooting victims opposed to the film?

In 2012, twelve people were killed in a mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora which was then showing The Dark Knight Rises. The family members of the victims wrote a detailed letter to the theatre, asking them not to screen Joker and their reasons for the same. They have also raised concerns about gun reforms in the US.

Why did the US Military issue a warning ahead of the movie's release?

According to reports, the US Military received warnings and notifications which hinted at a possible shooting an unknown theatre in the US during the release of the film. There have also been threats of a repeat of the 2012 Aurora shootings. Consequently, they issued warnings and things to keep in mind during a mass shooting at a theatre.

However, many fans maintain that the Joker is just another film and should be treated as one. While it is true that films do reflect society, the makers aren't really going off track when they say that Fleck's dark past caused him to flip over to the other side and resort to villainy. This does trigger a debate: should the Joker be treated simply as a fictional work of art or should the makers have been more careful while dealing with a sensitive topic which may have further repercussions?

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