When it was reported that Joaquin Phoenix was either unprepared or unwilling to answer a rather straightforward question about Joker’s depiction of domestic terrorism, it suggested the actor, and by extension the studio, might have been uninterested in really engaging with the heavy subject matter being presented. But now, Phoenix and director Todd Phillips have a lot to say.
In an interview, this time with IGN, it seems as if Phoenix and Phillips have not only spent some time contemplating how the public would receive Joker, they’ve also been paying attention to the way the conversation about the film has already taken such a distinct shape and tone despite the fact that most people have yet to see it.
While Phillips understands why people are inclined to form snap judgments, he really wishes that people would engage with the material first:
“I really think there have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven’t even seen the movie and they don’t need to. I would just argue that you might want to watch the movie, you might want to watch it with an open mind.”
Phillips also expressed his frustration with the way that so much of the Joker conversation has been shaped by a small group of critics and festival attendees with drastically varying opinions:
“It’s so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can’t.’ It’s making judgments for other people and I don’t even want to bring up the movies in the past that they’ve said this about because it’s shocking and embarrassing when you go, oh my God, Do the Right Thing, they said that about [that movie, too].”
While Phoenix didn’t comment on whether he thought Joker might be this generation’s Do the Right Thing, he did, interestingly enough, have a thoughtful response after being questioned about the movie’s potential to inspire people to emulate the villain:
“The truth is you don’t know what is going to be the fuel for somebody. And it might very well be your question. It might be this moment, right? But you can’t function in life saying, ‘Well, I can’t ask that question for the small chance that somebody might be affected by [it].’ I wouldn’t ask you to do that.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for all of us. I think we all are aware of these issues and we’re concerned, and I think that’s why we talk about it. I don’t think that we can be afraid to talk about it. So I understand why you asked that question. But I think the same way that you feel that you need to ask that question and engage in the conversation this way, I think that’s how I feel as an actor. And that’s all I have to say.”
According to IGN’s original report, its interview took place before the Telegraph conversation where Phoenix froze up and left when presented with a similar question. That would have made the Telegraph reaction all the more curious. When we reached out to IGN as to how it could be certain that its interview took place first, executive editor Jim Vejvoda conceded that he could not and the site’s report has been subsequently updated to reflect that. It seems the actor and creator had time to sit on the question a bit more the next time it was broached.
It’s understandable that Phillips and Phoenix would rather people form their own opinions about the movie, but their comments come at a time when the survivors of horrific gun violence are making a concerted effort to draw attention to the realities of the way the movie glamorizes its central character.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, five people whose lives were devastated by the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado recently signed a letter urging Warner Bros. to stop financially supporting any and all political figures who actively support the NRA and advocate against gun reform. But on a more personal level, Sandy Phillips, who became an advocate for the survivors of gun violence after her own daughter was slain in the Aurora shooting, says her issue with Joker is both visceral and personal:
“I don’t need to see a picture of [James Holmes]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer.
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.”
Though the Aurora survivors aren’t aiming for Joker to be banned, the movie complex where the tragic shooting took place will not be screening the movie.
UPDATE 9/24 4:20 PM: Warner Bros. has now officially responded to the calls from the Aurora survivors for the studio to distance itself from lawmakers who have resisted legislation that would result in stricter gun control. The studio did not say that it would stop supporting those kinds of politicians, but it did insist that Joker isn’t trying to frame the character as a hero:
“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. ”
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