1982 PG. It's so funny to think what PG used to be. It was everything that wasn't hard-R. The King of Comedy is actually pretty tame considering its subject matter. But it does involve mental illness, violence, kidnapping, and mild language. It's a very cynical movie that gets to some pretty bleak moments. Regardless, I'm rarely going to argue against a PG rating. PG.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
The only thing that actually is stopping me from finding out how the popularity of this film has changed in the past week is the tab above. I have the IMDB tab open, which could tell me how much this movie is trending due to the recent release of Joker. I saw Joker. I'm going to write about Joker, hopefully tomorrow. But I wanted to rewatch the movie that not only inspired Joker, but served as an active template for the movie with Martin Scorsese's loose involvement with the latter film.
When I first saw this movie, I adored it. It's still an absolute cracker of a film, so I don't want to downplay the film. But seeing a Marty movie that had a PG rating and it was actually great? That's something to really hold onto. I adore Martin Scorsese for the most part. There have been a few movies that really haven't knocked my socks off. Raging Bull is a classic that I just never gelled with. I don't know a ton of people who like Boxcar Bertha. But The King of Comedy is one of his lesser known movies that simultaneously keeps the violence pretty minimal. It's a character study. It's going to be so weird to compare Joker and The King of Comedy with that knowledge intact. But Rupert Pupkin is about slight misdirection. He is crazy from moment one. Scorsese doesn't actively lie about all of this, but he does hold his cards close to his vest. We know, because he's at the taping, that there's probably something a little off about him. He hangs out with the extremists, thus we can read into Rupert's intentions. But Rupert, initially, acts how we all think that we would act. There are celebrities out there that I'd love to talk to. I'd like to think that I'm somehow special too. Because that's what Martin Scorsese is playing with. Rupert Pupkin, with all of his messed up obsessions, is all of us.
Yeah, Scorsese takes it to a really dark place. I'd like to think that we're all different from Rupert, especially when it comes to the kidnapping stuff. I'm going to speak for myself, but I imagine that someone would notice that I'm different from the crowd. America has crafted us into creatures of privilege. As a white male, there's something in the film that resonated with the idea that we were all told that we're not part of the herd. I have been owed something and when other people have what I am owed, I do not take it well. But Rupert Pupkin is that intention without balance and the social order. He is a creature of that philosophy. He thinks that he is working hard for the American Dream, his being celebrity. Rupert's success, however, is at the cost of others. While, ideally, the rest of us can balance our own selfish natures with the good of society, Rupert doesn't really have that. What kind of falls in there is the insanity that the film shows. He starts believing the daydreams. I don't think that Rupert hallucinates in the traditional sense. Scorsese shows us Rupert's daydreams as a means of letting us know how things should be from Rupert's perspective. I have to applaud the use of the dream sequence to help develop Rupert's character. As amazing of an actor as Robert De Niro is, there's something a little off about his performance as a whole, especially compared to how deep-end-of-the-ocean Joaquin Phoenix goes with the character. But one of the details I adore is how well Rupert is acting in his mind. It's very much grounded material for De Niro in those fantasy sequences. But when he's Rupert in the grounded reality, his performances are off. They very much feel like stage acting versus real discussions. That little detail is ultimately telling about the lie of celebrity. In Rupert's mind, his illusions are the proper reality. People are acting civil and friendly with one another. But Rupert's enactment in the real world is the jilted mess that it tends to really be.
The movie, despite being the first movie about privilege that I can't think of, is about how we are ultimately unaware of what power dynamics actually are. We all think that we can be friends with celebrities. But we have a hard time understanding that even celebrities get star struck. It's because the relationship when it comes to celebrities is one way. All of the friendships we have come from people getting to know each other at the same time. A lasting friendship blossoms from equal vulnerability. But The King of Comedy reminds us that a relationship like that doesn't really happen with celebrities. I would love to be friends with David Tennant. He seems like a really cool guy and he's a nerd icon. But I know so much about him because of a strange accidental voyeurism. I never meant to know about his life in detail. I was just a big Doctor Who fan. David Tennant doesn't know anything about me. He never will. So when he's polite to me at a convention, it's my responsibility to know that he's just being a nice man by chatting with me. I am owed nothing. Not all people have that coping mechanism. (I don't know if I'm making myself look extremely healthy or not healthy at all.) I know that Woody Allen's Stardust Memories also touches on a lot of the same stuff. But Rupert Pupkin is really great example of mental illness because we know people like Rupert Pupkin. Part of us is Rupert Pupkin.
In terms of how much I enjoyed this viewing, I have to say that I was a little distant this time. I was watching it, knowing that I was going to see Joker. But something in the movie came across as a little stilted. Part of it is 1982 all over this movie. We had the aesthetics of the late '70s with the music of the early '80s. That's no good because the music was kind of off for the whole film. Also, I don't know if De Niro really had that deep acting well to pull from in this one. I think he's fine, but there's nothing all that insane about his performance. When he needed to act, he acted decently enough to tell the story. But there is a little bit of an emotional wall that De Niro puts in his film that is a little bit of a bummer. Also, I really have a problem with stories about stand-ups that aren't done by stand-ups. The King of Comedy stresses that Rupert's set is really weak. That's why he can't get on the show, among other reasons. But dramas about comedians tend to be pretty cringey. It's almost like the movie is just shy of what it is trying to accomplish. But that final act is something special. I don't know if I completely adore the resolution of the film. The movie is commenting on celebrity and the ourobouros that is celebrity. Rupert's celebrity at the end is only building more obsessive personalities. I don't think it reflects reality quite the way it should, but the message comes across pretty well.
Regardless, The King of Comedy is a work of genius. Perhaps a little bit of it comes across as dated. The biggest problem with this movie is the fact that it is 1982, not 1978. That's not the movie's fault, because the concepts inside are absolute genius. If you really want to know more of my thoughts on this movie, please read my Joker analysis, coming soon.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.