First Impressions on the Joker

SPOILER ALERT! I’m not giving away too many details about the storyline, but if you don’t want to be influenced in anyway before watching Joker, then click away now!

If you HAVE watched the film, I’m sure you’ll agree that Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is incredible. I have so much respect for actors who can transform themselves physically, but more importantly, emotionally to fulfill a role. He absolutely nailed it (I was scared and fascinated at the same time) and the critics are right – it is an instant hit.

There were also a lot of details that helped tell the story. Here are a few observations that I picked up at the time of watching Joker in early October.

Music

Interestingly enough, to my recollection the movie doesn’t start with any music. I found this quite uncommon as usually the credits roll to the introduction of some upbeat or moody music, which sets the tone before the first frame comes up.

in Joker, the music in the opening is played within the scene, on the radio – a part of the story opposed to overlaid.

The first bit of overlaid music comes after Arthur has been beaten up in the street and continues to become a bigger part of the story as his character develops. Eventually, the films ends with music telling as much of the story while overlaid on the closing scene, a stark change from the opening scene.

Bullying

I thought the scene of Arthur being beaten up was also quite symbolic. He chases after kids who stole his sign, essentially, stealing his livelihood. He runs for dear life trying to catch them, when he does they beat him and his sign – as though his job is beating him up.

The flower on his lapel starts to seep, which I initially thought was a symbol for things falling apart or for his passion giving up on him (wanting to do comedy), however, apparently there’s an interview with the director who notes that Arthur presses the water himself in an attempt to find humour in the worst situations.

Inclusion

A number of key roles are allocated to people of colour in Joker. At first, I thought it was a gesture of diversity, a nod at Hollywood being inclusive. Upon closer inspection, I realised it played a larger role. People of colour were often assigned menial jobs 50 years ago. In this story, the social worker is a person of colour, as is the records clark, psychologist and love interest.

I thought it was interesting that Arthur would love a person of colour (in this era) – perhaps another “reason” why Arthur was an oddball – seeing beauty in unconventional places. (Not to say black women aren’t beautiful, but to speak to the era where mixed raced relationships were more difficult.)

In the film, Arthur is often leaning on these characters for help. For example, when getting help from a social worker, asking for his records from the clark, etc. I thought it was a clever way to “drop his status” as a character; having a white man looking up to people of colour for help, essentially giving them the more powerful role.

This is unusual with so many films usually seeing white males or white people in a position of power.

Limitations

There’s a lot to be said about limitations in Joker. While he is clearly unhinged, he illustrates some level of consciousness or limit within the story.

A few examples that come to mind include when he sets off the gun in the lounge. He immediately turns up the TV to mask the sound, showing some kind of shock or guilt for his act.

The frames of him touching the hole he creates in the wall, as in the say, “Is this real?! Did I just do this?!” also shows some level of shock and disbelief – something not usually associated with the character.

Another interesting moment with limitations is when he is accused of stealing his work sign and he says to his employer, “Why would I take a sign?” He’s defending himself and essentially trying to illustrate that he has dignity and limitations in what he would do to make a buck.

Of course the limits are totally breeched as the film develops, from the scene where he reaches through the fence at the mansion and, of course, on the set of Murray’s show.

Physical Transformation

Phoenix is amazing skeletal in this role. We know he’s not eating as his mother encourages him to eat at home, however, the character isn’t showing a loss of weight. His belt fits well on his body, as does his suit, but he smokes like a chimney and is extremely thin.

The uses his lean physique to add to the role, contorting his body to design a new body language and behaviour as he develops Joker. This thin frame caught my attention a lot in the film, adding to the creepiness of the character.

Compassion

The Joker character has an interesting relationship with compassion or sympathy. He looks after his mother – bathing her and feeding her. He pursues a love interest with kindness and openness, not usually characteristics of a psychopath and he is ultimately beaten up by the suits on the train who are bullying a woman. It seems he knows right from wrong, in some way, and is even on medication (shows a will to be well).

The combination of losing his job, being down trodden, abandoning his medication, failing at his comedic aspirations, accidental power (free gun/taking a chance/getting away with murder) and the disenfranchised that praise him seem to bolster him into his new personality.

End of the World

I thought the riots at the end of the story was also set in an interesting place. As the world seems to fall apart there is a large “Ace in a Hole” sign with a women on all fours, as well as a reference to a gay film at the cinema they walk past. Why?

Are red light districts always to be associated with negativity and people giving into their animalistic tendencies? I thought this may have been a bit of a swallow way to tell the story. Unless, it was to illustrate seedy men rising up against the polite world?

Suit Up

As someone who doesn’t watch Marvel or DC programs and left my reference to animated characters back in my childhood, this film is easily watched with no references.

Having said that, the Joker’s iconic orange waste coat and maroon suit (with green hair) is easily identifiable and at least made the very novices of us feel included in the legacy story.

Jimmy Kimmel Fail

I don’t personally enjoy Jimmy Kimmel’s show. I’ve always found him particularly unfunny, lazy in his research and just generally boring (I think the skits the SHOW does are good, like the taking away of Halloween candy from kids and seeing their reactions, but he does nothing to enhance that, but read the teleprompter).

So, if I already wasn’t a fan, he recently played a clip of Phoenix “being unprofessional” on set. The crew were whispering while he was trying to focus in the scene and he craps on them.

The clip was sent by the cinematographer, but Jimmy just did nothing to ease the moment and, I feel, it shows a distinct lack of understanding for what some roles take (watch the Round Table with Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Moss discussing how their violent roles leave them in a vulnerable state of mind after shooting scenes) and wasn’t handled very well.

If You Love Film, Go Watch It

These are a just a few of my observations on the movie. I’d love to hear a few more of your thoughts and I’m looking forward to rewatching the film because there are so many powerful details that you can’t all take in on the first viewing.

Once you’ve watched it, let me know what you think!

PS Having watched Gemini Man at Cavendish last week as guests of Ster Kinekor, we opted to watch Joker at Ster Kinekor Cavendish since it had been so convenient.

I didn’t know you could buy your drinks and snacks online downstairs and collect upstairs. They also have a premium cinema with bigger seats, which I probably would have done had I’d known! So keep that in mind if you choose to watch at Cavendish. It cost us about R190 for 2 tickets. ENJOY!

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