Joaquin Phoenix's dark, hyper-realistic portrayal of the Joker is causing backlash before the movie even opens.
Titled "Joker," Phoenix stars as failed comedian Arthur Fleck, who ultimately becomes the comic book villain. But some worry the movie could inspire violence.
Several victims of the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, are expressing their concerns in particular. Twelve were killed and dozens more injured in the massacre at a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." James Holmes, the gunman, sported bright orange hair and has been compared to the Joker, though he never said he was inspired by the character.
The film feels like a "slap in the face," Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in Aurora, told The Hollywood Reporter.
"I don’t need to see a picture of [Holmes]; I just need to see a 'Joker' promo and I see a picture of the killer," Phillips said.
Despite the controversy, there's already awards season buzz for Phoenix. When asked whether he was worried the film could be dangerous, the actor walked out of the interview.
He later defended the role.
"I don't think it's the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong," Phoenix told IGN. "I mean, to me, I think that that's obvious."
Relatives of those killed in the Aurora shooting are asking Warner Brothers, the studio behind the film, to donate to anti-gun violence causes.
In a statement, Warner Brothers said: "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."