Amid controversy regarding the upcoming “Joker” film, its star, Joaquin Phoenix, has spoken out in defense of the controversial movie.
Ahead of its Oct. 4 release, some have voiced fears that the film, which follows the popular comic book villain’s descent into madness and violence, will inspire real-life violence, particularly on opening night. One critic called the film “incendiary” and “potentially toxic,” while another pointed out the dangers of portraying a violent murderer as a type of “folk hero.”
Speaking to Vanity Fair for a feature published online Tuesday, Phoenix acknowledged the backlash the film has attracted but suggested there might be an upside to it all.
“I didn’t imagine that it would be smooth sailing,” he said. “It’s a difficult film. In some ways, it’s good that people are having a strong reaction to it.”
“There’s so many different ways of looking at it,” Phoenix elaborated when discussing his character. “You can either say here’s somebody who, like everybody, needed to be heard and understood and to have a voice. Or you can say this is somebody that disproportionately needs a large quantity of people to be fixated on him. His satisfaction comes as he stands in amongst the madness.”
Phoenix went on to explain how he felt inspired, while reading the script, to portray the character as someone the audience can “sympathize or empathize with.”
“It’s so easy for us to — we want the simple answers, we want to vilify people. It allows us to feel good if we can identify that as evil,” he said. “‘Well, I’m not racist ’cause I don’t have a Confederate flag or go with this protest.’ It allows us to feel that way, but that’s not healthy because we’re not really examining our inherent racism that most white people have, certainly. Or whatever it may be. Whatever issues you may have. It’s too easy for us and I felt like, yeah, we should explore this villain. This malevolent person.”
“There’s no real communication, and to me that’s the value of this,” he continued. “I think that we are capable as an audience to see both of those things simultaneously and experience them and value them.”
Phoenix’s comments are part of an ongoing public conversation regarding the film. Despite the praise it received at the Venice International Film Festival last month, “Joker” has been mired in controversy in recent weeks. Family and friends of those who were killed during the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting sent a letter to Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, expressing their concern that such a violent character was being given what they deemed a “sympathetic origin story,” and asking the studio to use its platform to fight against gun violence.
“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression,” the letter reads. “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.”
Warner Bros. responded by pointing out its “history of donating to victims of violence” and reassuring the public that the “Joker” film is not meant to cast the character in a heroic light, NBC News reports.
“Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” its response reads. “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
The Century Aurora and XD — the Aurora, Colorado theater where the 2012 shooting took place — will not be showing the film, TMZ reports. Additionally, the New York Police Department is planning to have a police presence, both in uniform and undercover, at theaters throughout the city over opening weekend, Deadline reports.
Still, the film’s director, Todd Phillips, also defended the film against criticism when speaking to Vanity Fair this week.
“We’re making a movie about a fictional character in a fictional world, ultimately, and your hope is that people take it for what it is. You can’t blame movies for a world that is so f--ked up that anything can trigger it,” he said.
“That’s kind of what the movie is about,” he continued. “It’s not a call to action. If anything, it’s a call to self-reflection to society.”
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