Joker Was A Betrayal of the Mentally Ill, Says David Fincher

Director David Fincher recently commended Todd Phillips’ efforts to get Joker made, but pointed out its issues portraying the mentally ill.

David Fincher evidently has some conflicting thoughts on Joker, but wants it known that director Todd Phillips’ portrayal of mental illness is a bit of a problem. Fincher, who directed the mental illness-laced adaptation of Fight Club, has been doing press for his upcoming biopic Mank, and recently denounced Hollywood’s obsession with superheroes and Oscar bait, of which Joker was technically both.

The leadup to Joker‘s premiere last year was fraught with controversy, with its mere announcement causing many to worry about its potential message. “Black Panther for incels” was a popular turn of phrase used to describe the alleged “danger” the film could pose, as a subsection of internet trolls often used Heath Ledger’s Joker as a symbol. Ultimately, it proved to be panic over nothing, and the Joker was very well received for its style and acting with, if anything, a fairly vanilla message about the way society treats outsiders. What did remain in controversy is the portrayal of a mentally ill man Joker offered. Though Arthur Fleck’s condition is based on a real mental illness, the film as a whole perpetuates a great many stereotypes about the mentally ill, particularly how “dangerous” they are. In an ironic twist, the most controversial thing about Joker ended up being a myth about the violent tendencies of the mentally ill that fanned the flames of its pre-release backlash.

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Related: Joker: How Joaquin Phoenix Transformed Into Arthur Fleck

In a recent publicity interview with The Telegraph, director David Fincher shared his thoughts on Joker as a whole, noting it was a risk that paid off and that, as the director of the almost career-ending Fight Club, he respects the effort Phillips made to see Joker through. He also mentioned, however, his gripes with its writing. Read his quote below:

“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.”


The key turn of phrase here is, of course, “a betrayal of the mentally ill.” Fincher is no stranger to exploring mental illness, having worked on the chilling serial killer stories of Mindhunter and Se7en in addition to Fight Club. It is interesting and perhaps telling to see the king of creepy movies about actually dangerous mentally ill people pinning Joker as a poor depiction of them. Arthur Fleck is a character beaten down in almost ludicrous, hyperbolic ways and reacts with a similarly absurd turn to pure evil. As performed as the character can be at times, nuance is nowhere to be found in his story. The mentally ill aren’t springboards for vitriol, bouncing back tenfold on anyone and everyone (of which there are many) who would treat them poorly.

David Fincher isn’t one to mince words, and his opinion isn’t that uncommon. Joker fared well with fans and critics, but it didn’t do the mentally ill any favors, despite appearing like it sort of wanted to. That said, like anyone who’s railed against the studio system, Fincher offers his respect to the team that stuck with Joker to make it a billion-dollar powerhouse. Fincher himself has seen an exciting resurgence after abandoning the studio system, just recently signing a four year deal with Netflix after the early positive buzz for Mank. Maybe he’ll get to work on a better character study of a mentally ill victim of circumstance, perhaps also based on a traditionally manic and hyperbolic comic book character.

Next: How David Fincher Changed Se7en After A Brad Pitt Injury

Source: The Telegraph

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Updated: November 15, 2020 — 2:58 am

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