David Fincher says Joker was 'a betrayal of the mentally ill,' slams major Hollywood studios
Director David Fincher has few kind words for Hollywood studios — or for their latest take on a certain comic book character.
In an interview with The Telegraph tied to his new Netflix film Mank, the filmmaker slammed the major studios for taking fewer risks on innovative projects, citing last year's Joker as an example of Hollywood's derivative tendencies. Fincher echoed many of the film's critics by describing its protagonist, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as a mash-up of two Martin Scorsese characters, Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and The King of Comedy's Rupert Pupkin. (Both were played by Robert De Niro, who also appears in Joker.)
“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. “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 indeed proved a massive success for Warner Bros. despite (or perhaps because of) polarized reviews and waves of controversy. The film became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and received 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and netted Phoenix a Best Actor trophy for his performance.
“I'm sure that Warner Bros thought at a certain price, and with the right cast, and with De Niro coming along for the ride, it would be a possible double or triple,” Fincher added in the Telegraph interview. “But I cannot imagine that movie would have been released had it been 1999.”
That year is a reference to Fincher's own film Fight Club, whose reception among studio executives the director contrasted with Joker's: “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.”
"The reality of our current situation is that the five families" — a reference to the five Mafia organizations depicted in The Godfather — "don’t want to make anything that can’t make them a billion dollars," Fincher continued. "None of them want to be in the medium-priced challenging content business. And that cleaves off exactly the kind of movies I make. What the streamers are doing is providing a platform for the kind of cinema that actually reflects our culture and wrestles with big ideas: where things are, what people are anxious and unsure about. Those are the kinds of movies that would have been dead on arrival five years ago."
Citing another of his films, 2014's Gone Girl, he noted, “It would have been impossible to get a movie with that discordant, evaporating ending made if we hadn’t been able to point to the book’s place on The New York Times bestseller list.”
Fincher has been in business with Netflix for several years now with the TV series House of Cards and Mindhunter, and recently signed a four-year exclusive deal with the streaming service. Mank, his first feature film since Gone Girl, will debut on Netflix Dec. 4.
In the Telegraph interview, Fincher also teased his possible future projects, saying he's been considering a miniseries dealing with "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."