While the build up to director Todd Phillips' DC film Joker has been filled with anticipation, it has also been filled with controversy. Some critics and commentators have raised concern the gruesome film could inspire more violence in an already tumultuous era. Phillips has now addressed these concerns, explaining he considers them to be unfounded. Furthermore, he made it a point to clarify what exactly Joker is trying to say.
"I really think there have been a lot of think pieces written by people who proudly state they haven't even seen the movie and they don't need to," Phillips told IGN. "I would just argue that you might want to watch the movie, you might want to watch it with an open mind.
"The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world," he continued. "I think people can handle that message."
From there, the director went on to criticize the prospect of making judgement calls on behalf of others. "It's so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can't.’ It's making judgments for other people and I don't even want to bring up the movies in the past that they've said this about because it's shocking and embarrassing when you go, oh my God, Do the Right Thing, they said that about [that movie, too]."
Phillips added, "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."
Joker star Joaquin Phoenix -- who plays the Clown Prince of Crime himself -- chimed in on the matter as well. "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," the actor continued. "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 and wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that's obvious."
Phoenix further touched upon the idea of people potentially fueled to commit real-life acts of violence by a film like Joker. "I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. I just don't think that you can function that way... The truth is you don't know what is going to be the fuel for somebody. And it might very well be your question. It might be this moment, right? But you can't function in life saying, ‘Well, I can't ask that question for the small chance that somebody might be affected by [it].’ I wouldn't ask you to do that."
Nevertheless, Phoenix is well aware the concern regarding the DC character study does exist. "It's uncomfortable," he confessed. "It's uncomfortable for all of us. I think we all are aware of these issues and we're concerned, and I think that's why we talk about it. I don't think that we can be afraid to talk about it. So I understand why you asked that question. But I think the same way that you feel that you need to ask that question and engage in the conversation this way, I think that's how I feel as an actor. And that's all I have to say."
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham. The film arrives in theaters Oct. 4.