Quentin Tarantino recently sat down with Edgar Wright for a three-hour podcast conversation, courtesy of Empire magazine, in which the filmmakers discussed their most memorable moviegoing experiences. One of Tarantino’s more recent trips to the movie theater that proved unforgettable was for Todd Phillip’s “Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix in an Oscar-winning performance. While Tarantino found the comic book drama “a little one-note,” he did single out the film’s violent climax as a masterclass in subversion.
“Subversion on a massive level, audience response, cause and effect on the screen, feeling the atmosphere in the theater change; we’ve talked about all these things,” Tarantino told Wright (via The Playlist). “[However], the talk show sequence in the ‘Joker’ encompasses all of these things on a profound level, a level that is over most viewers’ heads to tell you the truth.”
The scene in question finds Arthur/Joker appearing as a guest on Murray Franklin’s late night talk show. Franklin is played by Robert De Niro. The sequence ends with Joker pulling out a gun and shooting Murray through the head on live television.
“It’s not suspense, it’s beyond suspense,” Tarantino said of the climax. “[Moviegoers] are riveted. Everybody is completely plugged in. If you saw this movie on an airplane, if you watch this movie streaming, if you watch this movie on DVD, you didn’t fucking see the movie. You got a hand job as opposed to having great sex. You got a hand job as opposed to a threesome.”
Tarantino added, “It’s not just suspenseful, it’s not just riveting and exciting. The director subverts the audience because the Joker is a fucking nut.” Then Tarantino launched into an analysis of the climax, saying, “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 said, “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,” Tarantino continued. “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 massive level! They got the audience to think like a fucking lunatic and to want something [they would never normally want]. And they will lie about it! [Audiences] will say, ‘no, I didn’t [want that to happen]!,’ and they are fucking liars. They did.”
Listen to Tarantino and Wright’s full three-hour conversation on the “Empire” podcast.