Director Todd Phillips’ new DC film “Joker,” which tells the story of the iconic psychologically troubled villain’s spiral into murderous madness, has become the latest gun violence lightning rod, with gun control organizations demanding that Warner Bros. dedicate resources to promoting their agenda, while the film has been pummeled with preemptive outrage online for potentially inspiring “incel” extremists. The controversy turned even more heated this week amid reports of the U.S. Army issuing multiple warnings about threats of potential mass shootings in theaters when the film opens on October 4.
But Phillips, star Joaquin Phoenix, and Warner Bros. have been pushing back against those vilifying the film. Phoenix has maintained that it’s not an artist’s job to try to predict what will “trigger” a psychologically disturbed viewer, an argument Phillips has echoed. In an interview with TheWrap conducted Friday and published Wednesday, Phillips added a politically charged wrinkle to his defense of his highly anticipated and now highly criticized film.
“I’m surprised,” Phillips told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxmann about the gun violence-related criticism of his film. “Isn’t it good to have these discussions? Isn’t it good to have these discussions about these movies, about violence? Why is that a bad thing if the movie does lead to a discourse about it?”
“I think it’s because outrage is a commodity, I think it’s something that has been a commodity for a while,” he added. “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.”
Prior to his criticism of the far-left, Phillips stressed that they did not make the film to try “to push buttons.” Instead, he explained, he approached “Joker” as “a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film.”
The intent was not “to glorify this behavior,” he emphasized; it “was literally like ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it f–ing Joker.'”
As The Daily Wire has reported, the criticism directed at the film has been building rapidly in recent weeks, with complaints about it excusing “incel” violence and concerns about its potential to promote more mass shootings.
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, five members of families of victims from the horrific mass shooting at a screening of another Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 signed a letter sent to Warner Bros CEO Ann Sarnoff Tuesday urging the studio to “be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe” and “end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.”
Perhaps most head-turning are reports that the U.S. Army, after receiving information from the FBI, felt compelled to issue a warning to service members about the potential of “incel” violence at screenings of the film. A memo sent on September 18 and since confirmed by U.S. Army officials warned service members about threats on social media about a mass shooting at a screening of the film. The memo states that there were “no known specific credible threats to the opening of the Joker on 4 October,” but a separate memo sent Monday by senior officials of the U.S. Army’s criminal investigation division said Texas law enforcement presented “credible” intelligence of such a threat.
“Posts on social media have made reference to involuntary celibate (‘incel’) extremists replicating the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, at screenings of the Joker movie at nationwide theaters,” the September 18 memo published by Gizmodo reads. “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 4 October.”
The memo goes on to describe incels as “individuals who express frustration from perceived disadvantages to starting intimate relationships” and who “idolize violent individuals like the Aurora movie theater shooter” and “the Joker character, the violent clown from the Batman series.”
Warner Bros. responded to the letter sent by victims of the Aurora shooting, issuing a statement Tuesday reported by TheWrap.
“Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies,” the statement reads. “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.”