Joaquin Phoenix Defends 'Joker' as Families of Shooting Victims Voice Fears Over Violent Film

Families of those killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting sent a letter to Warner Bros. to share their concerns about the movie's violence

Joaquin Phoenix has full trust in movie audiences to know what’s right and wrong ahead of the release of his upcoming movie, Joker.

The actor is the latest to portray the disturbed titular villain in Todd Phillip’s movie, which is being hailed both beautiful for its artistry and warned as “dangerous” for its depiction of a murderous character.

“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” he said at a press conference for Joker, according to IGN. “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.”

But the film is also making some families of mass shooting victims uncomfortable.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, family members of those killed in the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 have sent Warner Bros. a letter about their concerns as the movie’s October 4 release date approaches.

“We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe,” the letter reportedly reads.

Though the group doesn’t propose pulling the movie’s release, it does reportedly ask the studio behind the film to “use your political clout and leverage in Congress to actively lobby for gun reform. Keeping everyone safe should be a top corporate priority for Warner Brothers.”

The studio has since released a statement, according to Indiewire. “Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies,” it 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.”

Arthur Fleck/Joker-JOAQUIN PHOENIX
Niko Tavernise

While recently promoting Joker, Phoenix walked out of an interview with U.K. outlet The Telegraph after a reporter asked him if he was worried the movie might “perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.”

“Why? Why would you…? No, no,” Phoenix said before leaving the room, according to the newspaper.

The Telegraph reports Phoenix left the interview for an hour as he talked to a press agent with Warner Bros. The outlet reports the actor returned and explained he panicked because he did not consider the question.

Arthur Fleck/Joker-JOAQUIN PHOENIX
Joker. Niko Tavernise

The movie has been praised by critics and received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in late August before premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival to even more buzz.

After the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere earlier this month, Collider’s Perri Nemiroff wrote, “#Joker is one of the most unnerving movies I’ve seen in years. Joaquin Phoenix is astounding – the physicality of his work is especially impressive. It’s very well made across the board but I also found it very upsetting & right now I can’t shake that. Need to sit with this more.”

“I saw #Joker — and it is unlike anything before it,” Brandon Davis of tweeted. “The movie is dark, thrilling, and chilling. An insane masterpiece. The movie absolutely transcends being a comic book film and acts as a character study which, at times, will make audiences uncomfortable in wild ways.”

Joker opens October 4.

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