I’m planning on making a video essay on the two films that I speak about in this post soon. Hence, this analysis is restricted to just one small element in the two films. Also, this is my opinion and you’re most welcome to have different viewpoints. Thank You.
As I have written before in multiple posts, Martin Scorsese is my favorite American Film Maker. Again, there are lots of reasons for this. In this post I’m going to try to delve into one of Scorsese’s most eccentric and interesting protagonists, Rupert Pupkin, from the film ‘The King Of Comedy’.
The King of Comedy is easily one of the most under appreciated films by Scorsese. The film simply got buried under all the other, more obvious masterpieces by Scorsese like ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull’ from that era. For the uninitiated, this film revolves around a young, wannabe Stand Up comic and his obsession with his idol which transforms into dangerous levels of stalking through the course of the film. But I’m not going to talk about the whole film. Just the last few minutes. So you can expect some spoilers. But, I mean, you should have seen this film by now so just read it.
Towards the end of the film, we see DeNiro’s character of Rupert Pupkin kidnapping his idol and talk show host, Jerry Langford, along with the help of a crazy fangirl obsessed with Jerry. He does this in order to threaten the producers of Jerry’s show so that they let him perform his Stand Up bit on the most popular comedy show at the time because in Rupert’s words:
“Better to be King for a Night, than schmuck for a lifetime.”
I’m going to look over the otherwise brilliant film and focus only on the eight minutes that follow this dialogue. What happens next in the film is that Rupert is obviously arrested after the live telecast of his performance. Right after that, the screen goes black and we can hear a news broadcast as narration followed by video footage of Rupert’s face on several magazine’s in America. The broadcaster narrates that Rupert was sent to a minimum security prison for six years but was let out on good behaviour within just two and a half years. He then says that Rupert has written a book called ‘King for a Night’ which has become a bestseller and will soon be made into a motion picture. Rupert is back into show business. The film ends on the set of a T.V show where the announcer introduces Rupert as The King of Comedy. The final shot of the film starts all the way from the back of the audience like a wide shot and tracks forward until it’s a close up of Rupert’s face.
First of all, the screenplay of this film is not just another script, it’s a prediction of what America was going to become. The screenplay (Written by Paul D. Zimmerman) is of a fictitious character. One who sees that if you can’t get success as a straight laced schnook, you’ve gotta bend some rules. And even if you get caught, hey, at least you were King for a night. This philosophy is eerily similar to that of another one of Scorsese’s protagonists, a real one this time, Jordan Belfort.
In a way, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is like a meta sequel to The King of Comedy. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the symmetry in the titles. Consider the former film to be like the motion picture adaptation of Rupert’s life that the broadcaster in the latter film was talking about. And I can prove this with the very last frames of both films.
As I mentioned before, The King Of Comedy ends with the camera tracking in from the audience to Rupert’s close up. In fact, even when Rupert is performing during the hijacked show, we never see even a single shot of the audience. We just hear them laughing their guts out. This shows that in this film and world, the people don’t matter. Rupert is isolated. He’s someone people just point and laugh at or simply ignore. He’s a madman. And is also treated like one.
The Wolf of Wall Street on the other hand ends with a shot of DiCaprio (portraying Belfort) teaching an audience “how to sell a pen” as the camera slowly moves away from him and to the audience. The shot stays there for a while and then the film just ends. Thus showing that while at one point in time, there were just some oddball psychopaths who we all used to point at and think “Isn’t he crazy?!”. Now, the whole world is learning from another, and this time real sociopath about how he achieved his ways because maybe, just maybe, one day, they can be Kings for a couple nights too. This shot shows the shift in the psyche of the people. Almost as if after Rupert Pupkin, the people realized that they need to become at least a Belfort if they want to be somebody.
When people ask me why I love Scorsese’s films, this is the reason. the way he portrays individuals and the society around them is simply tremendous. I urge you to watch the moments specified in this post from both films, side by side. I’m sure you’ll see the similarities. When a Director can take seemingly similar subject matter and then manage to somehow show the similarities and differences in the two characters and the world they inhabit with just two simple frames, that’s the mark of great direction. In fact, that is what direction is supposed to be. That’s Martin Scorsese for you.