A cautionary tale or a promotion of violence? As Oscar weekend approaches, “Joker” controversy reenters the conversation

Katherine Sturdevant, Herald Contributor

With 11 nominations announced last month, “Joker” received the most Oscar nods of any film in the 2020 awards ceremony. Despite its acclaim, the movie has and still continues to garner controversial opinions across the globe.

In early fall of last year, the trailer for the movie made its way into the public and unfolded the story of how the Joker came to be. One of the biggest concerns of the movie was the way it portrayed Arthur Fleck (the Joker) as an anti-hero and made him look like a victim.

The problem with this was that for years, the Joker had been seen as a sadistic killer who’d only been portrayed to inflict violence upon others. If you give this type of person any kind of sympathy, a lot of people will feel uncomfortable about it.

The general fear behind “Joker” is connected to the horrific Aurora theatre shooting of 2012. The shooting occurred during “The Dark Knight Rises” where the shooter, James Holmes, mimicked a Joker-like look with his hair dyed a bright orange. This tragic event played a big role in why this movie was so controversial. 

It was feared that “Joker” might influence people to commit extreme acts of violence. Before the movie was released in theaters, the family members of the Aurora shooting victims asked in a letter to Warner Bros. to take things seriously, and to make sure everyone was safe. In addition, these individuals asked Warner Bros. to help contribute to the issue of gun control in America. 

Director Todd Phillips said the movie didn’t focus on the issues of guns but on the character itself. The connection between the Aurora theatre shooting and “Joker”has consumed the public because of the connections between the character and Holmes. It came down to the color of his hair and the movie he chose. 

“My friend dyed his blue, so I said I’d dye mine too and I just picked red,” Holmes said.

Even if there isn’t a strong correlation, these little things still seem to haunt us. George Brauchler, an attorney who prosecuted Holmes, spoke about the connection between the mass shooting and the movie “Joker” with Vanity Fair’s Yohana Desta. 

I don’t think it’ll ever go away because it’s just too easy. It’s almost like people want it to be true,” Brauchler said.

Due to the outcome of this horrific act, people had trouble fathoming why someone would do something so nefarious. At the end of the day, the best answer to that question was the influence of a horrific character. But in reality, people find it difficult to understand that there are people in the world who commit terrible acts upon others. 

“Joker” is a disturbing movie for many people, which is understandable due to the nature of the main character. A lot of people and critics do not like the movie because they believe making Fleck an anti-hero promotes the wrong message. Others believe the movie did a good job of telling Fleck’s story and tied in the harsh reality behind suffering with mental illness while being a part of an unjust system. In the eyes of many, the movie is well-crafted and award worthy. 

People are also raving about the performance the main actor, Joaquin Phoenix, gave in the movie. He managed to take the audience through a slow journey into madness. In a way, the movie seems to comment on how our systems work and the people left behind. In the letters between Warner Bros. and the families of the Aurora theatre shooting, the studio said, “Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations and complex issues.” 

The movie is a tale for some people and a topic of how mental illness is treated in this country. For others, the movie is too close to home and makes them uncomfortable. When “Joker” was released, it was one of the biggest openings the theaters have seen in a while. No matter how much criticism or how many Oscars the film receives, one thing is undeniable — this movie had a huge impact on the public.