Theaters nationwide have started to sell tickets for the highly anticipated film “Joker” ahead of its Oct. 4 release, with one notable exception: Century Aurora and XD — the Cinemark venue that was the site of a deadly mass shooting seven years ago during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
The new film won’t play at the Aurora, Colo., theater, previously known as Century 16. Reached early Tuesday afternoon, a manager indicated the decision had been made at the corporate level and declined to speak further. Cinemark has not yet responded to The Washington Post’s requests for comment.
"Joker," director Todd Phillips's R-rated take on the Batman villain, is also based on DC Comics characters but otherwise unaffiliated with Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Earlier this month, it took home the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it received largely positive reviews from critics. Much of the praise has been directed at Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of the mentally ill title character.
But the film has also been the subject of much speculation and worry over its gritty, realistic depictions of violence. Family members of those affected by the Aurora shooting — during which a gunman murdered 12 people and injured 70 — sent a letter to Warner Bros. expressing their concerns and asking the studio to donate to groups that support gun violence victims, according to the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
"We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us safe," the letter reads. It does not ask for Warner Bros. to halt the film's release, or for anyone to boycott it, but instead calls for the studio to, among similar actions, "end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform."
The shooting was "perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt 'wronged' by society," the letter reportedly states. "As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with."
In a statement shared Tuesday evening with The Washington Post, Warner Bros. extended its "deepest sympathy" to victims and families affected by gun violence, calling it a "critical issue."
"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," the statement reads. "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."
It's somewhat unusual for such fervent debate over a film's societal implications to precede its release, but many of those worried about "Joker," like the letter's writers, have drawn a connection between how the character violently responds to his feelings of isolation and how other people have done so in real life. Phoenix, who walked out of an interview after being asked if the film could encourage people to become violent, addressed the concern while speaking to IGN.
"Well, I think that, for most of us, you're able to tell the difference between right and wrong," Phoenix 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."
Phillips told IGN he finds such concerns "bizarre."
"The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message," he said, later adding: "To me, art can be complicated, and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated. If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art."
In the Hollywood Reporter piece, Aurora survivor Pierce O'Farrill recounted suffering from a panic attack while in a movie theater earlier this year. It had nothing to do with the movie, he said, but "you just never know what can trigger it, and I sympathize with those folks who are concerned about this film."