Why so controversial? Joker smashes box office

Taylor Clark, staff writer:

Amid recent controversy, “Joker” took reign of the box office this past Friday, Oct. 4; due to a whirlwind of fan excitement, “Joker” set a new opening day record for the month of October. But, leading up to its box office debut, many people worried that Warner Brothers was creating a film that would over-glorify violence--especially in light of the deadly Colorado theater shooting during viewership of “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012.

The “Joker,” a psychological thriller, debuted with a $93.5 million weekend at the box office, beating out last October’s record, wherein the film “Venom”  accumulated $80.2 millon. The film provides a sad, yet symbolic background story of the villain we all know and love to hate: the Joker. It portrays the effect of a cold, harsh world mixed with a splash of mental illness to show the effects that it has on an average person. All the while, it brings about the issue of taking a stand against the foundation of society itself.  

Joaquin Phoenix, who stars in the movie as Joker, says in an interview that, “it’s really good when movies make us uncomfortable or challenge us or make us think differently.”

Yet, while many worried that Warner Brothers was creating a film that would over-glorify a villain and the wrath of violence that comes with it, specifically, people are still concerned  that by showcasing a villian with a sympathetic origin story, other viewers could find themselves dangerously over-relating to him. In addition, the film makes it evident that the government, big corporations, and the rich of society are made out to be the “true villains.” 

The film raises questions of who we are as common citizens, and which side are we consequently going to root for: are we supposed to side with the poor villains of Gotham and resort to crime to see change in a dark world? It is almost as if the film suggests to its audience that nothing will ever be accomplished without drastic measures. 

In Aurora, Colorado in 2012, a shooting at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” showcased a brutal reality of the dark side of film influence. While the shooter was later identified as James Holmes, connections were made that linked him to the character of Joker as a point of inspiration. There were physical features that were identified, such as his bleached orange hair, that allowed people to quickly correlate the two together. 

Within the past week, families of the victims that were killed during the mass shooting wrote a letter to Warner Brothers. They asked for donations toward gun violence victim charities due to the fact that yet another villainous addition to the Batman franchise was set to release. 

A representative from Warner Brothers responded to the letter in a statement, saying, “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.” The Representative continues, saying, “at the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.” While it is understandable to have sympathy for the victims in previous instances, Warner Brothers knows that people are compelled to vicariously experience villainous acts, especially when the motive is well-known, such as that of the Joker.    

The films’ Director, Todd Phillips, states that the purpose of the “Joker” film is not to “glorify this behavior. It was literally, like, ‘let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it f–ing Joker,’” Phillips says.

Phillips understands that the Joker is a fictional character, however, what is not fiction are the issues of society mirrored in the film that the audience does not necessarily directly perceive to be at the forefront. Instances such as budget cuts, poverty, crime, greed, and a general sense that the top percent of society “just does not care about the little man” are prevalent; these instances in the film can all be translated into the real world. 

Despite the controversy surrounding this movie, Warner Brothers has successfully delivered another smash at the box office. After all, to Phoenix’s defense, it has made us all think about the world in a different, perhaps controversial way.