After weeks of criticism and controversy, Todd Phillips’ highly anticipated film, “Joker,” has finally been released. The psychological thriller is based on the DC Comics character and inspired by the graphic novel from the 1980s “Batman: The Killing Joke.”
The movie, which premiered in September during the Venice International Film Festival, depicts the violent mind and life of the protagonist psychotic figure, Joker. The film had people talking even before it’s release, as many raised concerns it could inspire violence amid constant public fears over mass shootings in the U.S.
The controversy over the film has highlighted the extent to which constant mass shootings have left their mark on the American psyche – causing widespread fear and perhaps even paranoia. It’s also reopened a decades-long debate over whether violence in media is partly to blame for the carnage that’s been carried out seemingly regularly across the country.
The supposed link between mass shootings and mental illness became a focus of President Donald Trump’s messaging after the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton in early August.
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Trump, a pro-gun rights conservative, said following the shootings.
Despite the fact that there have been more than 300 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019, America is still struggling to find explanations as to why a person would buy a gun and use it to kill other people.
Media and Violence
So is there any legitimacy to the notion that violent video games or movies can influence mentally unstable people to carry out real-world violence?
“There’s no way to really know for sure who’s going to be violent. It would be nice if we had the research that would tell us exactly how to predict this [a mass shooting], but it is very difficult,” Elizabeth Englander, a professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, told the Globe Post.
“What we know about media violence is that if it does have an effect on some people … it has a small or temporary effect. There are few people who are more strongly affected by it,” Englander added.
It is probably a matter of “easy access to guns that lead to people acting out these fantasies,” Brad Bushman, a professor of mass communication at Ohio University, told The Globe Post.
For the Bushman, who also has an appointment in psychology, “we know exposure to violent media is correlated with violent criminal behavior. So it definitely contributes, but the guns are the main problem,” he concluded.
The Aurora Massacre
In 2012, 12 people were killed inside a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of the film ‘The Dark Night Rises,’ also based on the DC Comics character Batman that sees Joker as the antagonist.
James Holmes, the 24-year-old man who attacked the crowd in the cinema, confessed to the shooting but plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Now, some, including family members of the Aurora shooting victims, are concerned that the new ‘Joker’ could inspire other would-be killers.
During the Aurora shooting, Holmes was wearing a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings. His hair was dyed orange-red, a bit far from Joker’s green hair. However, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly believes Holmes bleached his hair because of Joker. Though Colorado authorities have declined to confirm if Holmes told officers that he had been inspired by the famous villain, Phillips’ “Joker” won’t be screened in the Aurora cinema.
Further, in the Landmark Theatres chain, the audiences won’t be allowed to wear masks and costumes during the Joker screenings.
Making Us ‘Uncomfortable’
Early this week Warner Bros, the film’s distributor, commented that “neither fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind.”
With a spotlight already on the movie, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Joker, defended the film, which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival,
“I think is really good when movies make us uncomfortable or challenge us and make us think differently. It is important to be challenged in that way, it is good when people are having a strong reaction to the movie,” Phoenix said in an interview.