Oh, is it time to debate ‘Joker’ again?
It’s impossible to say whether Joker premiered 16 years ago or yesterday, but what is definite is that it nabbed Joaquin Phoenix a Best Actor Oscar and, whether you love it or hate it, has stayed in the pop culture conversation. This remains true for a recent three-hour podcast chat [via The Playlist] between Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright for Empire. The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood filmmaker remains pretty lukewarm on Todd Phillips‘ DC film overall—“Is this where we live now?” he asks. “Take great movies from the ‘70s and redo them as pop-cultural artifacts?”—but he does have many, many interesting thoughts on one scene in particular.
The scene: Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, having fully gone off the deep end and donned the clown regalia of his title character, appears on Murray Franklin’s (Robert De Niro) talk show. Fleck delivers an uncomfortable speech about society looking down on the mentally ill before shooting Franklin in the head live on television. “It gets to the talk show scene, and you feel the entire atmosphere in the theater change,” Tarantino tells Wright.
“The subversion on a massive level, the thing that’s profound is this: It’s not just suspenseful, it’s not just riveting and exciting, the director subverts the audience because the Joker is a fucking nut. Robert De Niro’s talk show character is not a movie villain. He seems like an asshole, but he’s not more of an asshole than David Letterman. He’s just an asshole comedian, talk show guy.””He’s not a movie villain. He doesn’t deserve to die. Yet, while the audience is watching the Joker, they want him to kill Robert De Niro; they want him to take that gun, and stick it in his eye and blow his fucking head off. And if the Joker didn’t kill him? You would be pissed off. That is subversion on a massivelevel! They got the audience to think like a fucking lunatic and to want [Arthur to kill Murray]. And they will lie about it! They will say, ‘no, I didn’t [want it to happen]!,’ and they are fucking liars. They did.”
I think the one thing we can all agree on here is that I don’t know more about making movies than Quentin Tarantino, but, as with most things Joker-related, there’s certainly a debate to be had here. Tarantino’s passion is always appreciated, but assuming everyone wanted to see the Joker blow Robert DeNiro’s head off is painting with a broad brush and sort of short-sells the movie’s purported themes; if it wants to put you in the homicidal shoes of Arthur Fleck as a form of subversive escapism, how can it also be asking you not to see him as the hero of this story? Empathizing with the mentally ill shouldn’t involve rooting for them to act out their worst impulses.
Anyway, The Discourse never sleeps. For more out of Wright’s on-going Empire take-over, here is the filmmaker on reconciling with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige.
And I believe him!
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