As with any studio film that features heavy doses of violence, there is a concern that it might encourage others to inflict the same sort of violence they see on screen in real life. That is what happened on July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado, when a man wearing full body armor and armed with multiple guns, including an assault rifle, shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises.
Director Todd Phillips‘ Batman spinoff Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role, presents a darker and grittier take of the DC world, one that will see a lot of gun violence. Due to the violent nature of the film those close to the victims of the Aurora shootings are speaking out, not to boycott the film, but instead to ask Warner Bros. to donate to groups that aid victims of gun violence. To this WB responded with a statement, in which they made it clear that the film is not “an endorsement of real-world violence.” More on the report below.
THR was among the first to report on the letter written by family members of the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shootings. Here’s an excerpt from it:
“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever 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 with fewer guns.”
The rest of the letter gets into the larger specifics of what they hope to accomplish together, and cite other large corporations that have taken action in an effort to build a safer environment.
In response to this, WB said:
“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.”
In an interview with IGN, director Todd Phillips said:
“I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. 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”¦I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. I just don’t think that you can function that way.”
There is no easy answer to this. On one end of the spectrum, I sympathize with those who have suffered because a person felt enabled to commit horrific crimes after watching a movie. Should it be a studio’s responsibility to tell its audience that what they are seeing is fictional and that it in no way should be re-enacted? That is not for me to decide. That being said, it is a discussion that needs to take place. Especially during these times.