Since Joker premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the concerns about its release were overwhelming. The story shows how one white man who feels marginalized in society can turn violent to find purpose, and basically, people got freaked out about what that could mean for IRL viewers. Critics warned it might encourage people to commit violent acts of their own. That made seeing the actual film in a theater very, very stressful.
Before the movie’s wide release, the U.S. military warned service members of potential mass shootings at screenings. In an email, service members were encouraged to “identify two escape routes” and “run, hide, fight” if a shooting were to happen. Another memo said military officials had found credible threats of violence on the dark web. Two different movie theater chains banned wearing costumes and masks to the showings.
Local police departments issued warnings of their own, telling people to be vigilant while watching. A movie theater in California had to cancel screenings because it received threats it saw as legit enough to be concerned about. So while no shootings actually happened this weekend, the idea they could have was very real.
I caught it on Thursday night near my hometown in Michigan, and going into the movie with all that in my head made it a nerve-racking experience. Not only were there extra police officers outside the theater, but an usher also stood in the aisle the entire run time of the movie. My friend, who was sitting next to me, didn’t lean back in her chair to relax for the first half hour because she was so nervous. Every time someone got up to go to the bathroom or get more popcorn, I froze up because I was worried they might have a gun. I watched the movie with the feeling that at literally any moment, someone could cause terror.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a generation where mass shootings became a fact of life early on, which made me numb to these kind of headlines at a certain point, but sitting in that theater made me confront the idea that we live in a world where walking into a movie and finding the nearest emergency exit is what you have to do to survive. It’s a pretty terrible thing to realize, especially when you’re too busy watching Joaquin Phoenix dance to truly reflect on it.
While I’m happy I saw Joker the literal first day I could (for the sake of my Twitter feed), my recommendation would be to sit this one out and watch it from your couch six months from now. I liked the movie, and sure, I don’t want to let fear keep me from doing what I want, but I would have liked Joker even more if I didn’t have to worry about the guy next to me standing up to refill his soda.
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