Phillips opined to The Wrap that outrage addicts are unfairly attacking his Warner Bros. film as their controversy du jour.
“I think it’s because outrage is a commodity, I think it’s something that has been a commodity for a while,” Phillips said in an interview conducted last week and published Wednesday. “What’s outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It’s really been eye-opening for me.”
Joker, opening Oct. 4, is arguably the most controversial film of the year even though it hasn’t even opened in theaters yet. The film garnered raves when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the event’s top prize. Critic reviews were largely positive (the title stands at 75 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), though many expressed concerns about the film’s content. The film offers a grounded portrayal of the titular Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) as a loner who feels mistreated by society and escalates to acts of violence against the wealthy and becomes a hero of sorts to the working class.
“Isn’t it good to have these discussions about these movies, about violence?” Phillips added. “Why is that a bad thing if the movie does lead to a discourse about it? We didn’t make the movie to push buttons. I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like, ‘Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film.’ It wasn’t, ‘We want to glorify this behavior.’ It was literally like, ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it (expletive) Joker.’ That’s what it was.”
Earlier this week, the families of victims of 2012 mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, penned a letter to Warner Bros. expressing their concerns about the film, and urged the studio to use its influence to help make society safer. In addition, a U.S. Army base has recently warned service members of dark web chatter making a “specific, credible threat” against an unspecified movie theater.
Warner Bros. has replied in a statement that “our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic. At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
Phoenix reportedly walked out of an interview when asked about the controversy, but then later defended the film. “Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” Phoenix has said. “And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”