Violence in new DC film could repeat itself outside of the big screen

Seven years ago, James Eagan Holmes took the lives of 12 and injured 70 during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in an Aurora, Colorado theater. Leading up to the release of “Joker” on October 3, military officials have released a warning after an Oklahoma U.S. Army base received intelligence from the FBI that there have been “‘disturbing and very specific’ chatter of alleged extremists on the dark web,” according to ABC News.

“Joker” is described in a review by Variety as the origin story of a “mentally ill loser-freak who… stands before us not as a grand villain but as a pathetic specimen of raw human damage.” It is this potential relatability that has upset victims’ families of the Aurora shooting, and many have called upon Warner Bros. to hold themselves more accountable and requested that the company cease contributing to political candidates who receive funding from the National Rifle Association, as reported by NBC News.

In a statement, Warner Bros. responded that “one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues,” and their intention was not to glorify the character or its violent actions in the film. In other instances it is suggested that what is portrayed in the film is strictly fiction and not a reflection of reality: but in certain ways, it is. While dedicating a narrative to the evolution of one of the most infamous villains of all time may be highly profitable -- it more importantly (and devastatingly) provides a figurehead for the radical, lonely outcasts of society.

In the film, Joaquin Phoenix is Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill failing comic who is so beat down by the world that he turns murderous to gain control and power. It presents his descent into violence and chaos as if his actions are actually justified. No matter the hand he was dealt with in life, his behavior in result is not only shocking and disturbing, but wholly unsuitable for American audiences in an age where 63% of mass shooters are white, young to middle-aged, and “experiencing multiple stressors… often related to mental health, finances and work,” according to a 2000-2013 FBI study. 

In an interview with the Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin, Phoenix walks out when asked about the real-world implications of those twisted enough to identify with the character. After an hour-long discussion with Warner Bros. PR, he returns and replies that the issue “genuinely hadn’t crossed his mind before” without directly answering the question. 

Filmmakers are under no obligation to create content that is wholesome, moral, and nontriggering. The majority of viewers are capable of distinguishing right from wrong and realize this film is fiction. But those who relate and empathize may be blinded by the difference, and recent mass shootings have shown us that it only takes one to threaten the livelihood of hundreds if not thousands. Even if “Joker” turns out to be the movie of the year, in ignoring the tragic consequences of its predecessors, it could be the perpetrator for future violence.