Tag Archives: todd phillips

Things I loved about Joker

So after watching this movie eight times I have a rough idea of what I love about it. Here’s a non-exhaustive list, straight from my twisted heart (and, um, obviously: SPOILERS).

  • How it starts and (almost) ends with the news. It sets the scene and introduces the theme of trash and rats. It may be banal, but I also like that there’s trash bags everywhere throughout the movie. It just makes it feel grounded in a real world.
  • How Arthur puts on his face, completely isolated and self-absorbed, like he’s not a part of that world. Also the way he physically punishes himself for not being happy by stretching his mouth into a smile. (And of course, echoing it at the end with blood.) But he really looks like he hates himself for not being able to smile for real. Ouch.
  • The squirting flower: I didn’t see that at first, but had it pointed out to me. It makes me think he needs to cry but can’t, so he uses the flower instead. (I know there are other interpretations but that’s mine.)
  • Every moment before he starts laughing and he’s trying to keep it in. Always different, always convincing, always heartbreaking. He conveys how physical and overpowering it is, and how helpless he is against it.
  • The ominous beat that starts the moment he looks up after saying “crazier out there”. Overall I love how he vacillates between moods. I mean, one minute that soft voice of his, especially “Yes ma’am” when he talks to the social worker, like a little boy, and then suddenly he looks at her like a wolf, like there’s a dormant danger inside him.
  • The journal. So disturbing. So real. Like another character in the film along with the music. And and and! I didn’t get this until my eighth viewing, but: “I’ve used it as a journal but also as a joke diary.” OMG. He’s telling us some things in the story are real and others aren’t, they’re just jokes, funny observations. Bravo on that brilliant piece of symbolism/foreshadowing.
  • The way he bangs his head against the glass wall of the phone booth, and it echoes how he banged his head against the window in the door to the observation room – if indeed that’s what it was. The clock being at 11.11 in both rooms could indicate that the white room is his head and what we’re seeing is his state of mind as he talks to Kane. I mean it’s one possibility, and I’m all for possibilities.
  • About the banging of his head… is he simply used to the pain and perhaps even relives it this way, or has he caused his own brain injury? Nah… He couldn’t, could he? But I love that the movie makes me ask it.
  • The way he tries to interact like other people and fails, like when he mirrors Sophie’s gun-to-the-head gesture but does it creepily and doesn’t realize.
  • The way he’s more “normal” in his imagination, when Sophie knocks on his door and he’s genuinely remorseful about following her and then cracks an actual funny joke.
  • The contradictions of his mother. In the letter she says Arthur is a little sad, but on the other hand she’s never seen him cry and calls him Happy. She’s told him (so he says) that his purpose in life is to spread laughter, but then she says, “Don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” Talk about mixed messages.
  • Names. They sort of throw doubt on some things. Like the doctor named Stoner – can he be trusted? Or the social worker named Kane (Cain)? But they can also highlight things, like Fleck – being a tiny fleck in a big world, and Penny being the smallest money unit. Ha, and yet: Arthur being a king’s name (a king with a humble background).
  • The way they talk on the news about needing a Pied Piper (I think?) for the rats. Well, hey presto.
  • “Rats! Oowaah!” Oh… no, sorry, that was my other obsession. Gotta keep my red-suited men with face-paint separated.
  • Doesn’t he have gigantic pupils during the scene where he watches Murray’s show and imagines being there? Is he high? Is every scene where he has big pupils in his imagination? If so, I think he never went to the benefit.
  • The way he laughs differently when it’s not his affliction, for example his insincere laugh when they make fun of Gary. Also when he tries to fit in at Pogo’s and his mocking laughter on Murray’s show.
  • The way he laughs at the wrong things in Pogo’s and then takes a cue from everyone else and laughs with them, but he doesn’t understand the joke. The heartbreaking dedication of taking notes at that club, trying his best to learn the trade. His heartbreaking spelling.
  • Dancing with the gun, and how he almost points the gun at himself. Like a danse macabre. And then he points it at the chair, which foreshadows killing both Murray, because that’s where he sits when Joker is rehearsing for the show, and his mother, because that’s her chair.
  • How the camera revels in his emaciated body. Actually a lot of times it feels like the camera pulls you into some kind of sick voyeurism, perhaps especially in the fridge scene, because he’s supposed to be alone when he climbs in there, but when the camera moves you’re reminded that you’re watching, and what you’re watching is so private. It always makes me think about how we like to ogle people.
  • And in the very next scene, we’re ogling him as he touches himself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Those guys in the subway… they’re so perfect. I feel like I know them. They’re a distillation of a type, and just perfectly scripted, cast, dressed, and acted. And I love that the singing one uses the pole to dance around (echo of Bruce).
  • The way he looks at the woman leaving the subway car, still laughing but looking scared and abandoned, it’s just so poignant because he sees himself as the potential victim, not her, and when she leaves he’s alone with the bullies.
  • How he reacts for once when the subway guys attack him – he looks wild like an animal, desperate, and kicks at one of them, and then when he’s on the floor you can see him bare his teeth before he shoots them.
  • How clueless and panicky he looks when he gets up after killing the first two guys – like a cornered animal that’s just fought off its attackers and doesn’t know where to go from there, and his gun arm is all over the place because he’s trying to pull himself together.
  • His hair. No reason, just a kink. I like it throughout, but in this scene it’s goddamn delicious. So whoever held the comb, thank you.
  • The way he really looks like a predator when he goes after the third guy. Fixated on one goal: to eliminate a problem. And how we see him through the passing train windows. Genius.
  • Also, the sound in this whole sequence, wow. It builds the mood perfectly, together with the flickering lighting.
  • The way he reacts after killing the third guy. Just this odd face, as if he’s not sure what’s just happened but he knows the danger is over, and then a quiet “shit” and a tinnitus tone. So unique, and so right.
  • I’m not sure about this one, because it’s subtly done if it’s done at all, but I have a feeling the makeup changes slightly depending on his mood. Like the angle of the eyebrows? Bravo if that’s the case.
  • The way he still runs as if he’s got clown shoes on even when he doesn’t.
  • The way he points the gun briefly at his head in the subway – his death wish comes out all the time in minute details like that. Oh, and speaking of death wish, he’s always hovering near EXIT signs! How many EXIT signs are in this movie?? He’s always on his way out. And then he tries to get in via an exit… I mean honestly. So good.
  • And I mean… yeah, the bathroom scene. How liberating it feels. How he’s having this spiritual moment in such a filthy place.
  • How he’s shot from behind when he goes to Sophie afterwards. “Every camera angle involves a moral decision” (Jean Luc Godard), and yeah, you’re making me want him. Sorry not sorry.
  • “If your dancing doesn’t do the trick, you’re just going to shoot yourself?” Way to sum up the whole movie, unnamed clown colleague.
  • When he honks the horn over his shoulder at Randall. Haha!
  • When he punches out. Wow. And is that a reference to dying as well?
  • I love that he dances on stairs a couple of times before that scene: when he leaves Haha’s and when he gatecrashes the Chaplin movie – where he even has red clothes on! At Haha’s he also dances out into the sun, just like he sort of does in the final scene at the hospital.
  • The way he often looks at the world through bars or grilles. Oh, and even the wallpaper in his apartment is like a fence, with those squares… And when he shoots the wall, is that Joker trying to break free from the cage of that suffocating wallpaper? Seriously, I could write an essay about that apartment. Two TV sets? A double bed? The red flowers and birds on the bedroom walls? I have so many questions
  • He never eats. The one time he has food in his hands he puts it on the table and lights a cigarette instead.
  • How intently he listens to the TV programme that talks about people siding with the killer.
  • Thomas Wayne saying that thing about “Who would do something that cold-blooded? Someone who hides behind a mask.” How it makes me smile because of who his son will become.
  • The way people constantly tell Arthur “it’s not funny”. And Joker finally telling him it is.
  • The way it’s shot, so subjective, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so subjective in a movie. I’m completely in his head. The closest comparison that comes to mind is Whiplash, and what a gut punch that was.
  • The way some scenes are shot like he’s a horror movie villain, but I’m still so much in his head it doesn’t scare me, it just works to make me understand his state of mind.
  • How he walks up those red-lit stairs at Pogo’s, it’s like he’s in hell or something.
  • The way he soldiers through his laughter on that stage.
  • The way he makes this aborted gesture at Sophie after telling his first joke at Pogo’s, it’s genius, I mean that’s how you behave when you know there’s one person on your side, good grief.
  • The way he just says “I hated school as a kid” and then laughs for something like ten seconds, leaving the audience to imagine the horrors of it. You don’t need anything more. That’s how you write a script!
  • The way his voice is muted and the illusion takes over at Pogo’s and Smile plays over everything as he imagines being a success. At least that’s my interpretation.
  • I always get chills when he sees the clown in the car. I think it’s the music.
  • The ambiguity of the scene with Bruce. He’s creepy but also exudes such earnest yearning. And he seems to avoid hurting/traumatizing children? Because he looks at Bruce when he’s strangling Alfred and changes his mind.
  • Actually the way he looks at Bruce the whole time is fascinating. When he first introduces himself, it’s so poignant. So much “future” in that moment, so much background to their mutual obsession… And the way “being brothers” can mean more than blood: that those at the top and those at the bottom are really brothers as humans, but there’s this arbitrary fence between them.
  • When he forces Bruce to smile it makes me think of the line “Why so serious?”
  • Alfred 🙂
  • The little treehouse (?) with the lights that sort of represent Bruce’s pampered childhood, and those lights are echoed at the end (to my mind) when Joker looks out at the burning city.
  • Speaking of childhood stuff, the way he touches Gigi’s things – also totally creepy but maybe he’s just imagining what it would be like to have a normal childhood with toys and loving parents?
  • The way he shifts between childishness, creepiness, depression, suppressed anger, and a million other things so you never know where you have him. Especially the repressed anger… Such relate, wow.
  • The way he punches the air in childish glee at the protests, even though he doesn’t really look like he understands what it’s all about. It’s like he just wants to be a part of something and likes it because he knows they got the idea from him. I also love how it’s echoed later in the film when he laughs in the subway (when all hell breaks loose).
  • The way his appearance contrasts so poignantly with the penguin suit in the cinema bathroom. Talk about clash of worlds.
  • His childish body language in the presence of his father figures: Murray, Randall, and Wayne. His little giggle when Randall calls him his boy in the beginning. When he meets Wayne, the camera (for once) films him a little from above so he looks like a little boy compared to him. Even in full Joker mode at the end, when he waits in the dressing room, he goes all gaga when Murray comes in, that little sort of ducking thing he does, going all humble and fawning like a puppy.
  • The cello. I mean, everything’s been said already about the music, but… that’s how you use a cello.
  • The way the camera mostly stays on his face while he kills his mother, and the sun in his eyes afterwards.
  • The way he calls her Penny instead of mom.
  • His waistcoats. Such shabby elegance. And you can sort of piece together Joker’s future attire from what he wears earlier in the movie.
  • The way the scene-cutting matches the rhythm of the music when the clips show how Sophie was never really there.
  • How his fantasies show what he longs for and lacks. Ouch.
  • The way he’s shot like a horror villain before, during, and especially after breaking into Sophie’s flat.
  • The way I need to brave some of my biggest fears to watch this movie in the cinema again and again: fear of disappointment, fear of other people, fear of the dark and late-night buses. How the need to see it again overrides all that.
  • The symbolism of speeding into tunnels. Maaaan.
  • “Check out this joker.” I mean… genius. How little things like that can shape the future.
  • The way it’s cut. ALL THE CUTS. The sounds from the next scene and/or the music of it bleeding over into the previous one in such perfect ways to create a perfect rhythm.
  • When he’s in the hospital elevator with the thrashing man and he’s superficially calm, just his nose jerking a little to reveal his inner turmoil. How the other man represents his inner feelings. And in the corridor when he waits for the journal, the light flickers a little, echoing how it flickered in the subway.
  • Is there an “above ground/below ground” imagery that I haven’t quite figured out? There are a LOT of stairs, elevators, and tunnels in this movie. I think maybe when he goes up he’s trying to be normal, and when he goes down he’s losing it. Or is it the hero’s descent into the cave? Let’s say it’s both. I love layers.
  • How he looks at the journal through the grille, like a cat waiting to pounce, deliberating with himself if he can pull it off. His gaze is so intense that it pierces through those tiny holes.
  • That whole scene actually. I adore the clerk, he’s so normal, such a perfect foil for Arthur.
  • That he asks what people do to get into the hospital. Does he want to get back inside? Is that the whole point of everything? Behaving in a way that gets him inside again, because he felt better locked up? And that’s why he laughs at the end, because he succeeded in creating the enemy that put him back in there? I don’t know, but I love all the possibilities.
  • The way there are increasingly red things in the background and in his clothes throughout the film – and, most obviously, in the stairwell at the hospital with the journal, where the walls are yellow/orange like his waistcoat and there are red pipes and floor and stairs that sort of frame the orange like his suit will frame the waistcoat, and he’s wearing his mustard yellow jacket over a red cardigan, so it’s a mirror image of Joker’s attire.
  • The way his laughter is overlaid after Dr Stoner says, “severe trauma to his head”. And the way Dr Stoner tells Penny what happened, almost as if he’s implanting the memory. She is lobotomized, right? The journal said so? Oh, to have a peek in that journal.
  • When he rehearses for the show and mutters to himself and can’t find the right tone or the right words and is clumsy and nervous. Also, the overlaid laughter and reactions from the audience in that scene. And the failed whipping-out-the-gun bit. And just the sheer meta-ness of that scene, because, you know… actors on talk shows. It’ll never be the same again.
  • When he paints his face white and strokes his tongue with the brush. That look in his eyes… so empty, and at the same time not. I can’t explain it. It’s fascinating. And the way his eyes look so black in his white-only makeup, especially when he looks at Gary while opening the door to let him out, so ominous.
  • How he delivers the line “My mom died. I’m celebrating.” I chuckle quietly every time.
  • When he grinds out the cigarette on the wall, and when he sort of hangs off the walls in the same scene and looks up at Randall like some eerie Christ figure. And and and I noticed on my seventh viewing that he actually drew a happy face on that wall with the cigarette! Which reminds me of BBC Moriarty: smiley face, “Why does anybody do anything?”…
  • The way it legit looks like his pulse is drumming its way out of his throat after he’s killed Randall. It looks so real. Again he looks like an animal that’s fought off an attacker.
  • His British accent when he says, “Crazy innit? Me on the telly.” Like I wasn’t already a goner.
  • The fact that his dance isn’t perfect makes it infinitely interesting to watch. It’s like I’m trying to eke out the imperfections, sort of trying to make him move more in synch… I don’t know how to explain it. It engages me.
  • His walk through the subway when he’s gone full Joker. He’s free and theatrical and glorious, and he has no fucks left to give (actually he has, but not at that moment). And there’s something slightly camp about him that I just adore, maybe mostly on the stairs, or is it childishness? I can’t tell.
  • Everything with Murray. Christ. At first he’s like a puppy with him in the dressing room, so humble and fanboyish, but then when he asks him to introduce him as Joker, that’s when he takes back some initiative and subtly confronts Murray about what he’s doing (making fun of him).
  • How different Murray is with him in this scene compared to Arthur’s fantasy! Much more distant and not really there, like he’s heard people fawning over him so much it’s become boring, and you compare that to him saying he wishes he had a kid like Arthur… My heart.
  • “I don’t believe in anything”. And the way his voice breaks.
  • The shot where he listens to Murray making fun of him with that blue light all over his face. I mean… stomp on my heart why don’t you.
  • How he looks like a butterfly fighting its way out of a cocoon when he stands behind the curtain, waiting to enter, and the people next to him look at him like he’s crazy.
  • His entrance on Murray’s show. Really “Here I am, Gotham”. How he’s officially introduced to the city as Joker. Like, how else would it happen really? And his smile looks so different here. His whole appearance is different, so confident.
  • And this is where words start to fail me. The whole sequence at the show is just mind-blowing (no pun intended). The way he vacillates between childish glee and hurt and craziness and fury and irony and pride and confusion and… gah. Is there a feeling he doesn’t go through during these, what, ten minutes? When you have a face journey fetish, this scene is a gourmet meal. Actually the whole movie is one long face journey, and I’m here for it. Plus you need to really watch him closely to see what’s happening to his face beneath the makeup. It gives my brain extra puzzles, and I’m in heaven.
  • A few specific things: the way he looks at the audience like… I can’t even describe it. He looks so vulnerable I guess. And labile. And how he giggles and moves like a child when Murray confronts him about starting all the carnage, and also after he’s killed him. I don’t know, it just gets to me.
  • The way much of it is shot from behind him, such an odd choice but so effective.
  • The way he looks at the other guest when he laughs at him. And the way he tells his joke. Just everything. I can’t… Every single expression on his face in that scene is a treat.
  • That we see Bobby making the cut signal out of focus. Just… so elegantly done.
  • The theme of trash, and Joker finally making the explicit connection between people and trash.
  • The way his sarcastic grimace throws doubt on the line, “I’ve got nothing left to lose.” Like he uses the phrase ironically to explain his actions to someone who wouldn’t understand the real reason.
  • The way he looks at Murray after shooting him. Like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. And we remember him looking up to him earlier…
  • How he looks like the iconic Joker when you see him through the camera (on a studio screen) right after he kills Murray and sits bobbing his legs and just looking ominous and slightly out of control and everyone is screaming. That’s the moment for me, when he merges with his future self, so to speak. When he becomes larger than life.
  • When he gets up and really just acts on instinct, it looks so unplanned, the way he shoots Murray again and is about to move away and then steps back and tosses the gun on the desk and walks towards the other guests and sort of just skips about as if he’s going to start dancing but he’s not sure what to do… it’s just perfect. Perfect. I’ve never seen anything so… I don’t even know. I’ve never been able to follow a character’s every whim like that, and it all happens so quickly and I never tire of it, I’m going to watch it a ninth time just to see that scene again. Well, not only for that, but I could pay the price of admission just to see the Murray show.
  • The adverts for cars and beer that play on some TV sets after he’s killed Murray, like that’s part of the problem, talking heads selling a surface that’s just out of reach. Very Watchmen.
  • White Room. Maaan.
  • The way he watches the carnage from the police car, looking like a little kid at a fairground. “Look at all the pretty lights!” And at the same time the fire reflects in his eyes, making him look crazy and dangerous.
  • Just the complete crescendo when they crash the police car and another car crashes into them and flips over with all that fire in the background and Eric Clapton going crazy… like after all this buildup you get this crazy payoff and you’re complicit in loving it. Or is that just me?
  • How he looks like a sleeping child when they pull him out of the car. So sweet and innocent, such a contrast to what he’s caused. And they hold him so reverently. And the fact that the thing with Bruce’s parents happens while he’s unconscious. Also the visual quote when they’re killed. Wonderful intertextuality that leads you to speculate on how this Joker will impact the “official” story long afterwards.
  • The way he doesn’t really cry until he’s in makeup – smile-crying over the policemen and then with Murray and on the police car. It’s his moment of glory and he’s crying because this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. His victory is so hollow, but it’s the only adoration he’ll get, so he takes it.
  • The soft strings of Send in the Clowns at the start of the credits. Like a soothing but ironic balm after this harrowing and wonderful experience. I always have to listen to it even after I come out of the cinema because it’s so perfect.
  • And finally: if you play Let It Go from Frozen over the bathroom dance scene, it fits perfectly. Start it at the moment he drops the bag. You’re welcome.