Todd Phillips’ Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix opened this weekend, and federal authorities have been monitoring social media posts after receiving threats of violence.
On the eve of the Joker release, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security notified local law enforcement, requesting they remain on high alert. Online threats have hinted at mass shootings at Joker showings. One venue in particular, a Huntington Beach, California movie theater, received a threat so credible the establishment shut down on release day and didn’t reopen until the next night.
“Fears have been heightened because of the infamous, chaos-loving character at the center of the story,” two reporters noted in USA Today. “Concerns have been raised about the potential for a copycat attack or violence in theaters.”
The copycat attack speaks to James Holmes, the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooter. Holmes, who many inaccurately associate with the Joker, gunned down twelve moviegoers during a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
What causes further alarm is the premise of the new Joker. The film follows a comedian that struggles after a series of unfortunate events and ends up on a murder spree. The movie glorifies killing in a way that might encourage copycat behavior. With the release, authorities are especially concerned, and they’re not the only worried party.
“Even before its release,” Faith Karimi wrote in a CNN article, “Warner Brothers faced protests from the families of mass shooting victims who feared it would lead to violence or copycat attacks.”
Phillips has pushed back, claiming his Joker character reaps the consequences for his violent actions, unlike other movies of the same nature. It’s also worth mentioning that there have been other incarnations of Joker since 2012, most notably Cameron Monaghan’s especially wicked version of Joker on Fox’s crime series Gotham.
“[Phillips’ film] is told in a manner that seeks to evoke empathy without rooting for him,” said CNN’s Brian Lowry.
Let’s hope that there are no repeats of past tragedies, and that moviegoers can enjoy a film set in a fictional world meant merely to evoke thought and discussion.