Local theaters filled for 'Joker' but some say film comes with a cost

OSWEGO —  “Joker,” the grim cinematic take on the famous Batman villian, has swept audiences across the nation but the dark nature of the popular comic book character and a precedent of gun violence surrounding the Batman movie franchises has created cause for concern for Port City movie theater operators and law enforcement.

Director Todd Phillips’ portrayal of the popular “Batman” antagonist, brought to life by veteran actor Joaquin Phoenix and released on Oct. 4 was the top box office draw again this past weeked in its second week of release. While the film has earned more than $200 million, “Joker” has also been subject to criticism for its violence and misanthropic themes. 

In the Port City, the movie has drawn flocks of cinema and comic book enthusiasts to the big screen.

“We knew it was going to be big, but we didn’t know it was going to be this big,” said Oswego Cinema 7 General Manager Cole Smith, noting the film has drawn packed houses for nearly every showing. “We did new hiring before the film aired, and told people to get here early for shows.”

With the film drawing large crowds, cities such as Los Angeles and New York have increased law enforcement and private security presence at “Joker” screenings. In Oswego, Smith said there are “plain clothes” security officers sitting at every show. 

He added theater staff “performs regular bathroom and perimeter checks during the shows.”

As a general policy the Oswego Cinema 7 requires bag checks, but Smith said he considered “not allowing bags” inside the theater during screenings of Joker as an extra precaution.

“We contacted the Oswego Police Department,'' Smith said, adding he appreciated having the Oswego Police Department only a few buildings away. “We gave them permission to use our parking lot and asked for them to do more patrols during the showing.”

Potential safety concerns reached a fever pitch a week prior to the movie’s release when survivors from the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting — where twelve people were killed and seventy others were wounded at a screening of the last “Batman” film of director Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” — wrote a letter of concern to a Warner Brothers studio executive. The Associated Press reported in September relatives of victims and survivors were “alarmed by violence depicted in the film’s trailer” and wrote to studio executives to support gun control causes and measures.

Local law enforcement said they were aware of the potential issues the film might cause.

"Although we haven’t received any specific threats, we remain vigilant and ready to respond if the need should arise,” said Oswego City Police Department Chief Tory DeCaire.

DeCaire added said the agency has emergency plans in place “should the unthinkable occur.” 

“Being alert and reporting suspicious activity, can help protect your family, neighbors, and community,” DeCaire warned moviegoers.

Nationally recognized mass-shooting researcher and SUNY Oswego Professor Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut also weighed in on the potential implications the movie’s messaging could have, noting she has mixed feelings about the film. 

“It is difficult to say whether the film shouldn't have been made,'' Schildkraut said. “The argument could be raised that not making the film lets the shooter win and continue to have power more than seven years later.” Schildkraut told The Palladium-Times.

With the popularity of the character and the film at an all-time high, Oswego Cinema 7 staff said “Joker” could run extended into mid-November.

According to the AP, the FBI told local police agencies to monitor potentially threatening online posts related to the film.

Photos posted on social media showed officers and a police dog outside a theater where "Joker" was being shown in Orlando, Florida, and a police SUV was parked on the sidewalk outside a cinema in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, during a screening.

In Bristol, Tennessee, the owner of the Twin City Drive-In Theater, Danny Warden, posted a warning on Facebook that anyone wearing a costume or mask to see "Joker" wouldn't be allowed in, and anyone who smuggled in an outfit would be asked to leave.

Warden told WJHL-TV that the decision was "common sense" after the film sparked concerns about its violent content.

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