David Fincher Criticizes Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ as ‘a Betrayal of the Mentally Ill’

The “Fight Club” director feels that studios no longer want to take creative risks and, instead, only want to make billion-dollar movies

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

“Mank” director David Fincher said that Joaquin Phoenix’s titular character in 2019’s “Joker,” which made a billion dollars and gave star Joaquin Phoenix his Best Actor Oscar, was trapped in a “betrayal of the mentally ill.”

In the interview with The Telegraph, Fincher made comments about Hollywood studios not taking risks on innovative projects and only making “billion-dollar” movies. He used “Joker” as an example, which he said was a mash-up of two Martin Scorsese classics, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.”

“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 in the interview with The Telegraph.

“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 and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars,” he said.

The film grossed over $1 billion at the box office, scored two Oscars and nine other nominations, and became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.

“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. “But I cannot imagine that movie would have been released had it been 1999.”

Fincher went on to talk about how the big studios are straying away from the “medium-priced” projects, which is where the streamers come in to provide an opportunity for filmmakers like Fincher. His upcoming film, “Mank,” will debut on Netflix next month after a limited release in theaters.

In fact, Fincher has had many projects with Netflix in past years, including “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter.”

“The reality of our current situation is that the five families don’t want to make anything that can’t make them a billion dollars,” he said. “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.”

He looked back on his 2014 project, “Gone Girl,” saying, “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.”

You can read Fincher’s full interview here.


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