No laughing matter

Joker’s realistic references to gun violence lead to unnecessary criticism


The threat of gun violence punctures “Joker’s” balloon of success.

It’s no coincidence that undercover cops can be found in public spaces such as planes, shopping centers and, as of October 4, movie theatres. “Joker”, a new movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, is about a marginalized middle-aged white man who finds salvation in violence. The film has received a lot of backlash regarding the violent nature of the movie. Despite the character’s many different installments and backlash since his creation, Phoenix adds his own twist of originality to the timeless character, the Joker, that we all know and love. At least that’s what I thought.  

Joker” centers on Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and stand-up comedian with a neurological deficit who turns to mass murder after being deprecated by the world. He eventually takes on the alias of the Joker and sparks this violence in others resulting in a riotous mob of clowns across Gotham City. Most fans responded very positivity to the movie considering it was the first deep dive into how exactly the Joker became the cynical terrorist. However, some families of mass-shooting victims have claimed that the film is “a sin” as it could inspire violence and more mass shootings.

There is no question that gun violence is a pressing issue today, and rightfully so. According to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there have been more school shootings than days in the year 2019, which averages at least one mass shooting a day. Back in 2012, a mass shooting occurred at a theater in Colorado during another Batman-themed movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Since the release of “Joker”, fear of fictional violence sparking real violence once more in the real world has climbed. This fear has caused several showings of Joker to be accompanied by a police authority of some sort to keep the peace and to ensure the only violent action seen that night would be on the big screen. 

Despite the preventative police actions taken, families directly affected by mass shootings are still criticizing “Joker” for making audiences “sympathize with the shooter in the room.” If anything, “Joker broke my heart more than it inspired hate within me. He was simply a sick man who fell through the cracks of society and was repeatedly denied compassion all his life. Arthur consistently cries for help, but never hears a reply. The movie is designed to show Arthur as someone who is severely affected by his mental illness and constantly ridiculed and taken advantage of, almost making his bloodshed and the fate of his victims feel justified.

 Nonetheless, “Joker” is completely fictional and “neither the fictional character Joker nor the film is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” stated Warner Bros in response to the heavy backlash. “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero”. 

Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of the best performances of the Joker since the days of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the Dark Knight series. With this said, I cannot help but feel like a lot of this backlash is far from deserved. The Joker is a comic originated character, and the psychopathic criminal has been portrayed like this since the days of the comic books.

 I understand we live in a world where this kind of violence is no longer seen as just a fictional aspect of a movie or graphic novel. This still doesn’t warrant a reason for a change in a cinematic masterpiece simply because the world doesn’t want to face the ugly truth. If anything, “Joker” feels more like a public service announcement on gun violence and mental health awareness rather than an inspirational story of a hero condoning his own violence. Gun violence is a massive issue, but the first step to solving this crisis most certainly does not lie within a DC comics origin film. At the end of the day, the Joker is still a fictional character who will continue to do imaginary crimes with fictional violence. It’s up to the world for whether this all stays within the pages, and behind the screens.