Quentin Tarantino Totally Nails Why Joker’s Big Robert De Niro Scene Is So Riveting

Joaquin Pheonix and Robert De Niro in Joker

There’s nothing better than receiving a compliment, but when that compliment comes from Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino, you know you’ve done something right. The Hollywood icon recently shared some praise for Todd Phillips’ 2019 movie Joker, and totally nailed why that ending scene with Robert De Niro works so well.

Quentin Tarantino recently explained exactly why the talk show scene towards the end of Joker was a remarkable example of audience manipulation with the following:

Subversion on a massive level, audience response, cause and effect on the screen, feeling the atmosphere in the theater change; getting to where you are going, as far as a movie’s concerned. We’ve talked about all these things. [However], the talk show sequence in the Joker encompasses all of these things on a profound level, a level that I think is over most viewers’ heads, to tell you the truth… [When] you get to the talk show scene, the entire atmosphere in the theater changes. It’s not suspense, it’s beyond suspense. [Moviegoers] are riveted. Everybody is completely plugged in… The subversion on a massive level, the thing that’s profound is this. It’s not just suspenseful. It’s not just riveting and exciting.

In the interview on Empire’s Film Podcast, Quentin Tarantino went on to praise Todd Phillips’ direction of Joker and the film's ability to subvert expectations of the audience. In his words:

The director subverts the audience because the Joker is a fucking nut. The guy’s a fucking nut. Robert De Niro’s talk show character is not a movie villain. He seems like an asshole, but he’s not any more of an asshole than David Letterman. He’s just an asshole, comedian, talk show guy. He’s not a movie villain. He doesn’t deserve to die. He’s just an asshole, and people like asshole comedians. Yet, while the audience in the movie theater is watching the Joker, they want him to kill Robert De Niro. They want him to take that gun, and stick it in his eye and blow the back of his fucking head off. And if the Joker didn’t kill him? You would be pissed off. That is subversion on a massive level! They got the audience to think like a fucking lunatic and to want something that they would never... And they will lie about it! [Audiences] will say, ‘No, I didn’t [want Joker to kill a man]!’ And they are fucking liars. They fucking did.

That’s some seriously high praise from a director with a career as impressive as Quentin Tarantino’s. The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood director suggests that Joker’s ability to make audiences think like Arthur Fleck is exactly what makes the talk show scene so captivating. By the end, viewers are thinking like the Joker himself, whether they want to admit it or not.

There were probably quite a few audience members out there who had the same experience as Quentin Tarantino considering Joker is now the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. Todd Phillips’ critically acclaimed movie went on to earn a whopping 11 Oscar nominations, taking home two, including Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s nice to see the praise being shared between filmmakers, as both Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Joker went head to head at last year’s Academy Awards. While neither won Best Picture (Parasite was the victor in that category), both of their projects took home Oscar’s of their own, including a Best Supporting Actor win for Brad Pitt on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

While it may be a while until we see either of these directors back at the Academy Awards, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix are reportedly in talks for a potential Joker sequel. Hopefully Tarantino will have similar compliments for the Arthur Fleck follow-up, but only time will tell. As for this year’s upcoming releases, be sure to check out CinemaBlend’s 2021 Release Schedule for the latest on everything heading to the big (and small) screen near you.

Braden Roberts

Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.