Joker: Families of Dark Knight shooting victims 'horrified' by Joaquin Phoenix movie

Relatives urge Warner Bros to take a stand for gun reform

Clémence Michallon,Roisin O'Connor
Wednesday 25 September 2019 07:30
Joker final trailer (2019)

Family members of those killed while watching a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 have said they are “horrified” by the forthcoming Joker movie.

An open letter published in Variety accuses the future Batman nemesis, played in the new film by Joaquin Phoenix, as having a “sympathetic origin story”. They also criticised Warner Bros for what they felt was a lack of concern for public safety.

Warner Bros said Joker is not an endorsement of real-life violence.

Twelve people were killed and 70 injured after James Holmes opened fire at a cinema screening of The Dark Knight Rises – the final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale – in Aurora, Colorado on 20 July 2012.

The letter, which is addressed to Warner Bros, is signed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi, 24, died in the shooting; Tiina Coon, whose son witnessed the attack; Theresa Hoover, who lost her 18-year-old son AJ Boik; and Heather Dearman, whose cousin Ashley Moser lost her six-year-old daughter Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

Warner Bros said the film is not an endorsement of real-world violence.

“When we learned that Warner Bros was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” the letter reads.

“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 letter adds: “Since the federal government has failed to pass reforms that raise the standard for gun ownership in America, large companies like Warner Brothers have a responsibility to act. We certainly hope that you do.”

Ms Phillips later told BBC News: “When I first saw the trailers of the movie, I was absolutely horrified. And when I dug a little deeper and found out that it had such unnecessary violence in the movie, it just chilled me to my bones.

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“It makes me angry that a major motion picture company isn’t taking responsibility and doesn’t have the concern of the public at all.”

In its response, Warner Bros said it has a “long history of donating to victims of violence”, including the Dark Knight Rises shooting.

“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.”

Joker, which will be released on 4 October to the public, has been met with mixed reactions so far.

The film earned an eight-minute standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. However, Time film critic Stephanie Zacharek (a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist) said Phoenix’s character “could easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels“ and said the film was guilty of “aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy”.

Variety’s reviewer Owen Gleiberman said the film “does something that flirts with danger – it gives evil a clown-mask makeover, turning it into the sickest possible form of cool”.

Phoenix temporarily left an interview with The Telegraph after being asked whether he was worried that the film might end up inspiring the kind of people it is about, with potentially tragic results.

He later returned and told film critic Robbie Collin that he had been thrown by the question, because the issue hadn’t crossed his mind.

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