Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix's new movie was issued a threat warning by the FBI and U.S. military as more controversy swirls around the DC/Warner Bros. film.
After concerns raised by Aurora families who suffered loss during a mass shooting at a 2012 The Dark Knight Rises screening in Colorado, there is now a warning from the U.S. military to service members about a possible mass shooting at an unknown theater screening Joker.
iO9 reported Tuesday that the U.S. Army confirmed that the widely-distributed warning was issued due to dark web and social media activity from "incel" extremists. The incel chatter was discovered by intelligence officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (A separate memo, issued Monday by senior officials in the U.S. Army's criminal investigation division, stated that the Army obtained “credible” intelligence from Texas law enforcement officials pertaining to “disturbing and very specific chatter” on the dark web “regarding the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.”)
Service members were instructed in a September 18 email (which you can read in full here) to be aware of their surroundings if attending a screening of director Todd Phillips' new movie. They were also encouraged to "identify two escape routes" and, should a shooting occur, service members were instructed to "Run if you can. If you’re stuck, hide (also referred to as 'sheltering in place'), and stay quiet. If a shooter finds you, fight with whatever you can."
The Army said they are "unaware of any specific plots or suspects." The notice was released as a precautionary measure. The notice, which was marked “For Official Use Only,” was relayed purely as a precautionary measure, it said.
Joker star Joaquin Phoenix recently walked out of an interview with the UK's The Guardian, refusing to answer a reporter's question regarding the film's risk of inciting violence.
This latest safety concern pegged to the movie's release sparks further debate over the need to dramatize characters as divisive as Joker in a way that could come off as glorifying their violent/homicidal ways to more susceptible audience members like those among the incels' ranks.
The very gritty, R-rated violent film features Phoenix as a more realistic and violent Clown Prince of Crime than his comic book counterpart. His origins are that of an aspiring comic who fails to find success in that field, so he eventually turns to crime (and murder) as a result of a life in Gotham subject to ridicule and a reported inability to "get the girl."
To shape a narrative like this around such a character, seven years after Aurora shooter James Holmes cited Joker as his inspiration for his crime, feels problematic at best and just plain wrong. Especially in light of the fact that Holmes is considered somewhat of a hero among incel circles.
Mass shootings have unfortunately peaked this year, and movie theaters have been on various stages of alert ever since the 2012 shooting that added them to the list of places people are no longer safe to be in. We hope that Joker does not inspire or incite more violence. And we encourage Hollywood to reconsider adapting this particular piece of IP this way. Or at least put a stop to this particular take because there's no property worth so much potential trouble and definite worry.
While filmmakers and movies cannot control how their content is interpreted by audiences, they can control the transmission of that message. How it is sent, not how it is received. While it is very unlikely Phillips and his filmmaking team had the intent for their movie to spark or cause any of this, their project does beget the questioning of its need to exist in the first place -- given the take put forth here.
Do we really need a movie that risks creating a narrative that gets us to sympathize with a character that uses violence and murder to advance his ill-gotten gains?
That seems to be a question filmmakers and audiences will have to answer when Joker arrives in theaters October 4.