Martin Scorsese was attached as one of the producers when Joker was in the early stages of development, but despite departing the project long before cameras started rolling, the legendary filmmaker’s fingerprints are still all over the finished product. Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are clearly two major influences on Todd Phillips’ movie, with Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck sharing many similarities with protagonists Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, not to mention the meta casting of Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin.
Taking a dark, twisted psychological drama with a main character that’s very clearly suffering from some kind of psychosis and wrapping it in the clothes of a comic book story was a bold creative decision to make, and one that paid off very handsomely. Straddling the line between awards season favorite and box office behemoth is a move that very few projects manage to pull off, but Joker raked in over a billion dollars globally and saw the leading man scoop an Academy Award for Best Actor.
No stranger to making films and TV shows about troubled individuals himself with Seven, Fight Club, Gone Girl and Mindhunter among his back catalogue, David Fincher recently had some harsh words for the Warner Bros. picture, and went so far as to call the R-rated thriller out for betraying the mentally ill.
“I don’t think anyone would have looked at that material and thought yeah, let’s take Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars.”
Joker was certainly no stranger to controversy in the buildup to release, with many fearing the impact the movie could have on certain sections of society. It turned out to be nothing, though, and most people took the DC adaptation at face value as a unique and interesting spin on a genre that’s been almost done to death over the last 20 years.