Director Todd Phillips is setting the record straight. Joker was indeed influenced by the comics in which its title character was born and showcased over the past eight decades. The controversy over a complete lack of source material acknowledgment that emerged this summer was all a misunderstanding.
“It’s funny because a lot of you guys have probably reprinted something I said in Empire where I was misquoted,” Phillips told a small group of press, myself included, after an early screening of the film.
“I’m not gonna complain,” Phillips continued. “I like the writer; he wrote a great piece where I said we didn’t take anything from the comic book world. It’s actually not what I said. What I said was we didn’t take anything from one particular comic. We kind of picked and chose what we liked from the kind of 80-year canon of Joker. We kind of pulled a few things that we liked.”
What Phillips described is common practice within movies based on comics. Most do not work off of any specific issue or story arc. They are simply inspired by any number of moments that filmmakers find useful for the stories they are telling.
For reference, here is the original quote from Empire, which Phillips says was inaccurate.
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic books, which people are gonna be mad about. We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”
Having seen Joker, I can speak to the accuracy of Phillips’ most recent statement on the matter. Any fan with a fair amount of familiarity with The Joker’s comic book history will be able to spot at least a few source material influences on the film.
The subject came up when Phillips was asked about making his character study a movie called Joker when perhaps he could have just called it “Arthur,” referring to the title character’s supposed real name.
“Could it have been called ‘Arthur’ and it just be about a clown? Maybe,” Phillips responded. “I just thought there’s a new way to tell a comic book movie, and maybe I’m wrong, and let’s do it as a character statement. A big part of what interested me about it, more than making a movie called ‘Arthur’ was to kind of deconstruct the comic book movie a little bit. That was part of what was exciting about it to me.”
Joker, comic book inspiration and all, hits theaters October 4.