Just ahead of its theatrical release, “Joker” touched down at the 2019 New York Film Festival for its hometown premiere. In a post-screening discussion, director and co-writer Todd Phillips was asked to weigh in on the backlash that has surrounded the movie since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. “Joker” won Venice’s top prize, but it was met with concerns that its story could encourage violence among certain moviegoers.
“It’s a complicated movie and I’ve said it before that I think it’s okay that’s it’s complicated,” Phillips told the NYFF audience. “I didn’t imagine the level of discourse that it’s reached in the world honestly. I think it’s interesting. I think it’s okay that it sparks conversations and there are debates around it. The film is the statement and it’s great to talk about it but it’s much more helpful if you’ve seen it.”
Phillips continued, “There’s been so much conversation around the movie by people who haven’t seen the movie; thinkpieces written by people who say, ‘I haven’t seen the movie. I’m not going to see the movie. I don’t need to see the movie. ‘And then they write two pages about the movie. I don’t know that it’s hurt the movie. It probably has helped and it’s good to have people talking.”
One part of the “Joker” backlash that doesn’t make sense to Phillips is complaints over the graphic violence in the movie. The director already made headlines last month when he called out people for criticizing the violence in “Joker” but widely embracing the violence of action movies like the “John Wick” franchise. “He’s a white male who kills 300 people and everybody’s laughing and hooting and hollering,” Phillips said of the Keanu Reeves character. “Why does this movie get held to different standards? It honestly doesn’t make sense to me.”
While addressing the crowd at NYFF, Phillips expanded on why the complaints against his film’s hard R violence make no sense to him. “Isn’t it a good thing to put real-world implications on violence?” he asked the audience. “Isn’t that a good thing to take away the cartoon element of violence that we’ve become so immune to? So I was a little surprised when it turns into that direction, that it seems irresponsible because to me it seems actually very responsible to make it feel real and make it that weight.”
Warner Bros. will finally be opening “Joker” in theaters nationwide October 4.