Taika Waititi has yet to experience the pitfalls of commercial or artistic failure. The Thor: Ragnarok director’s output has been profitable and critically acclaimed, with his latest hit, Jojo Rabbit, even earning him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. And with the Marvel sequel Thor: Love and Thunder on the horizon, that success is destined to continue. But his lack of experience with professional defeat isn’t keeping him from making a TV series about a filmmaker who has hit rock bottom.
According to Variety, The Auteur will see Waititi team up with Jude Law for a Showtime limited series based on Rick Spears and James Callahan’s Oni Press comic book series of the same name. The story, which is being described as a Hollywood satire, follows an eccentric filmmaker (played by Law) as he tries to get his career back on track following a string of flops, and he’s willing to go to extreme lengths to make it happen.
The comics follow a struggling movie producer called Rex who enters a downward spiral after he finds himself behind schedule and over budget on an Abe Lincoln-themed slasher movie. His reputation is in the gutter after coming off the biggest financial disaster in Hollywood history, and he badly needs a hit. This prompts him to go off the rails and hire a real serial killer to be the film’s murder consultant, and it doesn’t take long before things get bloody.
The comics also revel in all of Hollywood’s seedy stereotypes, such as drug use, sexism, lust, and people willing to do anything to get ahead. They’re also completely unrestrained and grotesque in their approach to these ideas. Throw in some over the top violence and a willingness to offend readers, and what you have is a story that’s for acquired taste buds. Enter at your own risk.
At the same time, there’s a point to its madness, and anyone who’s ever pursued a creative endeavor will likely relate to Rex to some degree. He’s unlikable, but he’s not without his empathetic qualities. According to Spears, the character is an exaggerated version of himself, as he’s an artist who worries about being viewed as a fraud in his industry, despite his best efforts to create work that people respond to.
The comics also poke fun at Hollywood’s lack of originality. The first issue opens with Rex going for a drug-induced hallucinogenic swim, searching for new ideas in a pool that’s polluted with gimmicks, gags, and recycled concepts. Eventually, though, an epiphany appears in the form of a naked and homicidal Abe Lincoln, who gets Rex’s creative juices flowing.
While Waititi has hardly struggled to come up with his own interesting stories, his views on the mainstream American movie business are quite similar to Rex’s at times. The director once said that Hollywood is “scrambling for ideas and stories,” so this element of The Auteur probably appealed to his own sensibilities.
The Auteur explores the low points of the creative process and the desperation that can arise from that. But it’s also critical of the industry and the public, both of whom are prone to turning on artists they once hailed as great as soon as they experience some bad luck. Of course, these complex themes are balanced with a healthy dose of gore, surreal adventures, and speeches about genitalia.
More than anything, The Auteur is weird, silly, gruesome fun. If the show leans into the crazier elements of the comics, it will be Waititi’s crudest and most puerile project to date. That said, he recently skewered Adolf Hitler with Jojo Rabbit, so it’s not like he hasn’t been edgy before. But even that movie boasts some childhood innocence and naivety. The Auteur probably won’t.
Furthermore, as entertaining as the comics are, they are quite rough around the edges from a storytelling perspective. Waititi will polish the core concept and probably bring some of his own oddball ideas to the table, while simultaneously making a show that’s more accessible to mainstream sensibilities than the comics.
Still, since it’s a television series, he’ll also have more opportunities to be weird and experimental, which all shows featuring drug trips and murder should be. Let’s just hope he gets around to making The Auteur eventually, as he has other projects planned beforehand.