Joker Director Says Its Realistic Violence Feels Like a Punch in the Stomach

Since our first glimpses of Todd Phillips' Joker, comic book fans could tell it would be a darker take on the Batman villain, with the filmmaker noting that the violence depicted in the film feels like it takes a physical toll on the viewer. Having premiered over the weekend at the Venice Film Festival, most of the reactions from audiences, regardless of whether they liked or disliked the film, is that the violence is disturbing and unsettling, not only visually but also contextually. Ultimately, the director noted that the ways to accomplish the violence's effectiveness was the ways in which those sequences were framed.

"It’s all tone. I think one of the biggest jobs of a director is you’re the purveyor of tone, and this movie was always written and meant to be a slow burn, and I think the violence is part of that slow burn. We were very careful, I think, with it," Phillips shared at a press conference at the festival. "A lot of people assume or think it’s gonna be a really violent movie, but if you break it down to the amount of people that [Arthur] has a problem with, I think the reason it affects you differently — I mean, you can watch a movie like John Wick 3, and there’s a much higher amount of violence. But I think why it might affect you differently is we tried to paint it with as realistic a brush as possible. So when it comes, it sort of feels like a punch in the stomach. But again, it was all just a balancing act of tone."

Joker centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a man disregarded by society, is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale.

Fans were previously given a grittier take on the superhero genre with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, with Phillips noting that Martin Scorsese, who served as a producer on the film, also had a major impact on the endeavor.

“Movies from these great character studies that they don’t do as much nowadays as they did in the late ‘70s, whether it was [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo’s Nest, or Taxi Driver, or Serpico, or Raging Bull, of course, King of Comedy,” Phillips said. “Marty was doing a ton back then. And even things like The Man Who Laughs — I mean, we were watching a lot of musicals, [co-writer] Scott [Silver] and I, when we were writing it.”

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Joker lands in theaters on October 4th.

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