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Director David Fincher slams Joker movie as 'a betrayal of the mentally ill'

By Josh Weiss
David Fincher & Joker

A little over a year after Todd Phillips' critically acclaimed Joker opened in theaters and became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, David Fincher has offered up his frank thoughts on the DC origin film. Speaking with The Telegraph to promote his new movie, Mank (an exploration of Citizen Kane's screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz), the celebrated director of Seven and The Social Network criticized the movie's depiction of mental illness.

"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.

Joker was heavily influenced by the early works of Martin Scorsese and even stars Robert De Niro, who played both Bickle and Pupkin. Set in Gotham City (circa the early 1980s), the story revolves around Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a struggling and unstable comedian who plunges the city into chaos after morphing into Gotham's most famous antagonist. Despite early concerns that the film might incite violence in theaters, the comic book-inspired movie was a financial and critical success, eventually taking home a pair of Oscars for Best Actor (Phoenix) and Best Original Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir). It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

"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 added.

The filmmaker later touched on the impressive box office performance of 1995's Seven, which brought in over $320 million against a minuscule budget of $33 million. "The fact that Seven made the kind of money that it did was as big a shock to me as to the people who paid for it,” he says. “But the beauty of it was we stuck to our guns," he said.

Mank, which adopts the crackling black-and-white style of the Golden Age of Hollywood, is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release before it debuts on Netflix on Dec. 4. The project, starring Gary Oldman in the title role, was written by the director's late father, Jack Fincher, who instilled in his son a keen eye for appreciating quality cinema.

"It wasn’t that he [my dad] set a curriculum as such, but he told me, ‘Look, if you’re gonna watch Westworld or Herbie the Love Bug, you have to temper that with the good stuff,’" the director recalled.