David Fincher Says Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ Was ‘a Betrayal of the Mentally Ill’

Fincher also likened the film to a mash-up of "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy," and contrasted its success with "Fight Club."
Warner Bros.

After opening last October, raking in more than a billion dollars, and taking home multiple Oscar wins including Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” isn’t going anywhere from the cultural lexicon. Todd Phillips’ DC origin-story smash remains a favorite of superhero fans who like their tentpoles with sharp edges. In a recent interview with The Telegraph to promote his glossy new Hollywood throwback “Mank,” now in select theaters and streaming on Netflix beginning December 4, Fincher said “Joker” was a risk that paid off, and he contrasted it the experience to his own “Fight Club” more than two decades ago.

“Nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with ‘Joker’ had ‘The Dark Knight’ not been as massive as it was,” Fincher said. Indeed, “The Dark Knight” also racked up more than $1 billion for studio Warner Bros., but even “Joker” bested it.

However, Fincher also described the film as a mash-up of two Martin Scorsese classics that also floundered in its portrayal of people with mental illness, as Todd Phillips’ film uses that trope to explore Joker’s jagged psyche.

“I don’t think ­anyone would have looked at that material and thought, Yeah, let’s take [‘Taxi Driver’s’] Travis Bickle and [‘The King of Comedy’s’] Rupert Pupkin” — two characters played by Robert De Niro, who also appears in “Joker” — “and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars,” Fincher said.

He also said “Joker” gave him flashbacks to getting cult classic “Fight Club” off the ground at 20th Century Fox, as the film was initially balked at by studio executives back in 1998. Regarding early screenings, Fincher said, “the general view afterwards among the studio types was, ‘Our careers are over.’ The fact we got that film made in 1999 is still, to my mind, a miracle.” For Fincher, the early shaky reception to “Fight Club” was opposite the early confidence Warner Bros. had in “Joker” to deliver as a box office smash, and an Oscar contender.

In the wide-ranging interview, Fincher also discussed Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” (“a movie that has become incredibly stained by time”), and ideas he’s been batting around for a series centered on cancel culture. “At its heart it’s about how we in modern society measure an apology,” he said. “If you give a truly heartfelt apology and no one believes it, did you even apologize at all? It’s a troubling idea. But we live in troubling times.”

Read the full interview over at The Telegraph.

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