Quentin Tarantino has a love-hate relationship with comic book movies, but Joker might be his favorite.
Tarantino praises Joker for subverting audience expectations and making them sympathize with the deranged character.
The film's depiction of Joker's mental anguish and outcast status in society sets up the audience to side with a villain, subverting the conventions of comic book movies.
Influential Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly made inflammatory remarks about comic book movies. The Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs filmmaker has a love-hate relationship with the genre, with hate as the dominant emotion. There are rare times when he gives praise to a comic book film. Todd Phillips’ Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is one of those films. In fact, Joker might just be Quentin Tarantino’s favourite comic book movie.
Love For Joker’s Subversive Elements
The director spoke on the Empire Movie Podcast and marvelled at how profoundly the film subverts the audience’s expectations. Tarantino praises Phillips for making the audience sympathise with Arthur Fleck (Joker) despite Fleck being a ‘nut’. Tarantino was emphatic in his praise for this aspect of the film. Joker is deranged and kills popular talk-show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro).
Audiences were shocked when Fleck drew his guns and killed Franklin, but, on some level, audiences would have been upset if Joker had not shot the host, argues Tarantino. The film’s depiction of Fleck and his mental anguish primed the audience to accept Joker’s radical act with hidden sympathy. Fleck’s outcast status in society and the abuse he suffers from society set up the audience to side with a villain and, in so doing, subverts the conventions of comic book movies and films in general.
Joker was a comic book film but avoided most of the tropes and conventions of the genre. Instead of delving deep into fantasy, Joker offers a character study of Arthur Fleck as he becomes the villain from the comics. Todd Phillips uses the audience’s attachment to the character and evolves him into a real flesh and blood character with tangible connections to the real world. The director said making the film was a chance to “sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic-book film”.
The Guardian asks whether Phillips is trolling fans by crafting such an unlikely comic book film which has a main character that resembles the individuals many in the media have labelled as incels. Is Phillips even a fan of the genre? Joker is a complex film that is critical of incels like Joker while also subliminally embedding sympathy for Joker.
Despite his praise for Joker, Tarantino is not a big fan of conventional comic book films. Hunter Radesi, from Murphy’s Multiverse, highlights the director’s bristly relationship with the genre. Tarantino notoriously called Marvel directors “hired hands” and that he “can’t wait” for comic book films to fail. Despite his attack on the genre, Tarantino is drawn to Joker on some level. Perhaps the film’s lack of comic book overtones helped the filmmaker to engage with the story on a deeper level than with other less dramatic and dark comic book movies.
Joker’s homage to 1970s films like Taxi and Serpico helped break down Tarantino’s animus toward comic book films. These movies from the 70s were explorations of crime and human psychology in a decaying world, and they were character studies instead of big action or fantasy films. Joker’s study of Arthur Fleck and the grim world he inhabits is a break from the standard comic book film with action spectacle and CGI driving the narrative. Joker subverts the genre and focuses our attention on Fleck and the experiences which drive him. Tarantino seems charmed by these film elements and engages with them with respect and admiration.
Tarantino may be critical of the genre, but the auteur was once set to make a Luke Cage film starring Lawrence Fishburne, as well as having written a script for Silver Surfer. It’s strange that he now disavows the genre when he seemed to be linked to prominent comic book properties in the past. Perhaps Tarantino is reacting to how dominant the genre is at the moment.
The cineplex is saturated with comic book properties, and Hollywood hesitates to make original films. Instead, they have been set on making comic book films instead. As a director known for his original work, having studios more interested in adapting existing IPs from comics must seem degrading on some level. Despite his hate for the genre at the moment, Tarantino was forced to acknowledge a comic book movie like Joker’s contribution to film, and maybe it is the type of comic book film Tarantino would make.
Joker is a psychological thriller film directed based on DC Comics characters, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joker and follows Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and aspiring stand-up comic whose descent into mental illness and nihilism inspires a violent countercultural revolution against the wealthy in a decaying Gotham City.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: 4 October 2019
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
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