Six months ago the world was a much simpler place (although still mostly awful). It was a time when one of the major topics of debate was over Joker, Todd Phillips’s gritty retelling of the Batman villain’s origin story. At the time, critics most often compared Joker to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, from which Phillips lifted much of his visual aesthetic and thematic elements.
This month, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, critics are re-visiting the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which also shares some similarities, in terms of its reception, to Joker. And in a new interview with Vulture, American Psycho director Mary Harron explains why she loved the Joker and was so stunned by what critics (including myself!) thought of it:
I love Joker. I was on the jury at Venice [Film Festival], the jury that awarded it the [2019 Golden Lion] prize. And I was amazed at the reviews of Joker. Apart from that it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking, I thought it was a great portrait of madness. It had a class theme you very rarely find in American films.
Harron goes on to explain that she thought the conversation around Joker was “ludicrous.”
Both Joker and American Psycho were caught up in a national conversation about whether they romanticized violence. While Joker’s critics claimed it gave a sympathetic origin story to a toxic man (New York’s critic David Edelstein called it “an anthem for incels”), American Psycho was criticized specifically for its violence against women. Notable feminists including Kate Millett and the National Organization for Women protested the story when it was released as a book—because that conversation has happened around me, because it happened around American Psycho, and it’s always the same conversation. These attacks always focus on some kind of art movie. They never focus on the extreme violence in mainstream entertainment. I love John Wick, but it’s far more violent and has far more mayhem than Joker or American Psycho. Actually, both of them have a small amount of violence. It’s just that that violence is disturbing.
It’s an interesting comparison, and certainly American Psycho—both the movie and the book—are now considered modern classics, beloved for their transgressive satire of capitalism and superficial consumerism. Perhaps Joker will be remembered fondly by the next generation. Only time will tell.
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