Joker

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Joker," in theaters on Oct. 4.

Disclosure: We have yet to see the new “Joker” film, which opens in wide release today.

Long before its opening, there was a huge buzz for two reasons — the brilliant performance by Joaquin Phoenix and the film’s graphic violence.

“Joker” tells the back story of how Arthur Fleck, a middle-aged, lonely man, who lives with his mother, becomes The Joker. Fleck, in this story, suffers mental illness and feels bullied by society.

Warner Bros. issued a statement declaring it’s “not an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” after parents of the Aurora movie theatre shooting complained. (In 2012, at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” a gunman killed 12 and injured 58 others.)

Today’s filmmakers seem to rely on shock value for suspense. Two of the scariest movies ever (at least when you saw them for a first time) were “Psycho” and “Jaws” and both had very little violence or gore. You were terrified by what could happen. Although inspirations for film students, very few filmmakers are as skilled as Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg.

Arguabally, The Joker is the most compelling villain in comic book history.

It’s hard to believe that at one point, nobody thought Cesar Romero (from the TV series) could be topped. Enter Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. How could anyone be a better Joker than Nicholson? Heath Ledger did it 20 years later, posthumously winning an Academy Award.

And, according to the critics, Phoenix could be the second Joker to win an Oscar. He’s that good.

There is a difference. Romero and Nicholson played it for laughs ... the way a clown should. They were menacing, but there was some camp and joy in their performances.

Ledger and Phoenix delved into the character’s dark side. Jared Leto in the awful “Suicide Squad” was also dark.

Another popular film this year was a sequel to Stephen King’s “It,” about a clown who terrorized school-age kids.

We thought clowns were funny.

What’s happening when we can no longer take kids to a comic book movie ... because it’s too violent?

James Miller is managing editor of The Kelowna Daily Courier. Email: james.miller@ok.bc.ca