Joker is coming out this weekend. It has a 78 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, apparently, a nonzero percent chance of mass shootings. The NYPD and LAPD have both announced they will be increasing police presence at theaters showing the film, and nationwide law enforcement is on high alert after monitoring “disturbing” dark-web chatter. Here’s what the film critic from The Telegraph tweeted after a festival screening: “Here is my opinion of Joker: I think it’s a very good film, and I’m worried someone’s going to get killed.”
Hmm. As much as I enjoy Joaquin Phoenix and forming opinions on buzzy cultural conversation starters … I’m going to have to pass on this one.
While I’m hesitant to buy into any sort of moral panic around the film itself — contrary to popular belief, James Holmes, who murdered 12 people at a 2012 screening of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was not motivated by the character of the Joker, who wasn’t even in the film — it still doesn’t make for a low-stress viewing environment. Even without the Aurora, Colorado, connection (which is admittedly hard to ignore, tenuous or not), some critics have expressed concern that the film is overly sympathetic to its murderous protagonist and could serve as “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.” While other critics have refuted this as a shallow reading of a smart and nuanced film, we’re living in an era when far-right extremists have latched on to everything from Taylor Swift to New Balance sneakers as a rallying cry for the cause. You know who isn’t good at doing close readings of films in order to parse the fine line between glorification and subtle critique? Violent far-right extremists. You know what else is a smart commentary on toxic masculinity? What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson, which you can stream in the comfort and safety of your home.
Sorry, but … why do we keep making this movie? This is what, the millionth Joker film? (And still no Secret History movie? Shame on you, Hollywood.) Even if the film is great, I’m going to miss two minutes of the movie looking for emergency exits in a panic every time anyone gets up to go to the bathroom. Is this reasonable? Probably not. But it’s not unreasonable. There have been at least 21 deadly mass shootings in 2019; meanwhile, families of the Aurora survivors have penned letters of concern about the film (as a result, Joker will not be shown at the theater where the shooting occurred). Maybe if it were the 1950s and there were only three movies screening down at the local drive-in, you could convince me that spiraling through crippling anxiety for a couple of hours is worth it in order to enjoy a 78 percent good movie. But there are so many other movies out! Like the Downton Abbey movie! As far as I know, there hasn’t been any dark web chatter yet about shooting up the Downton Abbey movie. Although this is America, so who knows.
Anyway, I’ll probably just wait to see it on a plane. Nothing bad could possibly happen there.