People’s reactions to the recent trailer for “Joker” this week show that some are still trying to force the film into a template that’s comfortably familiar to them.
Some are trying to see how it connects to the DCEU or potentially kicks off a whole new swath of films, others are trying to tie it back to one of the more notable comic storylines or ‘versions’ of the character seen in the comics or considering it an ‘elseworlds’ variant.
Those involved however have been quite adamant about this being a completely standalone work not based on any existing comic storylines. Combined with the $55 million budget, a very economical one by comic book standards, filmmaker Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have the freedom to take it in all sorts of directions that will probably be divisive.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Speaking with The Los Angeles Times this week, Phillips revealed that some at the studio had as difficult a time wrapping their heads around the idea of an R-rated standalone film as some of the fans are having. In fact, even when the script was finished it was still “a year-long process just to get the new people on board with this vision”. He goes on:
“There were emails about: ‘You realize we sell Joker pajamas at Target’. There were a zillion hurdles, and you just sort of had to navigate those one at a time…. At the time I would curse them in my head every day. But then I have to put it in perspective and go, ‘Theyre pretty bold that they did this.'”
Producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff says part of the reason the film was able to go ahead was the modest budget – around one-third of what it cost to make “Aquaman” – because that freed them from having to try and tone down or soften the film’s edges and make it a wide appealing affair:
“There were some hiccups trying to get the green light and there were some concerns about some of the content, but once we locked and loaded our budget they really gave us a tremendous amount of space to do what we needed to do. The passion Todd has for this movie is palpable, and when he starts talking about it he’s hard to say no to. At the end of the day, he got to make the movie he wanted to make.”
Indeed the film’s potential to be a dark, gritty, realistic character study that dabbles in ambiguity is its biggest strength, and the reason actor Joaquin Phoenix wanted to get onboard. Even so it was a drawn-out, four-month process to convince him to take the role and a part that saw him lose 52 pounds to take on the role. Phoenix tells the paper:
“Creating a complex flesh-and-blood character in shades of gray rather than a black-and-white cartoon villain…that’s really the only thing that’s worthwhile; the other thing is connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers, and who the [heck] cares about that? There are certain areas of the character that frankly still aren’t clear to me, and I’m fine with that. There’s something enjoyable about not having to answer a lot of those questions. It requires a certain amount of participation from the audience that feels different.”
Phillips very much hopes the film’s comparisons to be with that of late 1970s/early 1980s American New Wave cinema, notably Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”:
“The movies that I grew up loving, these character studies from the ’70s, you couldn’t get those movies made in this climate. I said to myself, ‘What if you did a movie in that vein but made it about [comic book] characters?’… It really came from this idea: what if you just did a comic-book movie differently? We all grew up on these character studies and they’re few and far between nowadays. So it was like, ‘Let’s do a deep dive on one of these guys in a real way.’ No one is going to fly in it. No buildings are going to collapse. It’s just going to be on the ground, so to speak.”
Of course, some will outright reject this approach and probably won’t be fans of the film. Phillips doesn’t mind that and says the character is robust enough this will hardly be the last interpretation fans will have of him:
“There are always going to be naysayers, but from what I gather about the momentum of the movie and the response to the teaser we put out, the majority of fans seem to be excited about going down a different road. But also, this will not be the last Joker movie ever made. It might be the last one Joaquin and I do, but someone else is going to come along and do another one, just like with Spider-Man. So if you don’t like this one, don’t worry – it’ll get reinvented again.”
“Joker” opens everywhere on October 4th.