If there’s one thing Quentin Tarantino loves almost as much as making movies, it’s talking about them. The filmmaker has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema from the most obscure Z-list genre titles that 99% of people have never heard of to big budget Hollywood blockbusters. The 57 year-old seems to spend all of his free time devouring content when he’s not creating it, and given his standing in the industry, when he talks, folks listen.
After all, he’s one of the most instantly recognizable directors in Hollywood, and one of the elite few who needs nothing more than their name to sell a project to the masses. It also helps that his filmography has raked in $2 billion at the box office, with the majority of his work receiving unanimous critical acclaim, landing him two Academy Awards and four Golden Globes from a combined eighteen nominations.
Tarantino isn’t particularly big on effects-driven spectacle movies or superhero stories, but he does have some interesting insights into Todd Phillips’ Joker. In a recent interview conducted by Edgar Wright, the man behind Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction first blasted the billion dollar hit for cribbing too heavily from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, before praising the subversion on display in the talk show scene.
“Is this where we live now? Take great movies from the 70s and redo them as pop-cultural artifacts? Taxi Driver as Joker, Apocalypse Now as Ad Astra, is everything some weird pop culture artifact of a challenging movie from another time?”
It gets to the talk show scene, and you feel the entire atmosphere in the theater change. 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 f*cking nut. Robert De Niro’s talk show character is not a movie villain. He seems like an assh*le, but he’s not more of an assh*le than David Letterman. He’s just an assh*le 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 f*cking 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 f*cking lunatic and to want that. And they will lie about it. They will say, ‘No, I didn’t’, and they are f*cking liars. They did.”
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Making audiences sympathize with a deranged lunatic is a difficult task to pull off, although it was one made a lot easier for Phillips by having one of the most iconic characters in the history of pop culture at the forefront of the story. Still, the success of Joker was largely built on subverting expectations by delivering a dark psychological thriller that just so happened to have the legendary Clown Prince of Crime as the protagonist, antagonist and centerpiece all at once.