Joker is a sophisticated and complex movie, full of symbolism and connections that have multiple levels of meaning. The director (Todd Phillips) introduces a new representation of Joker’s character, which is completely different from any previous versions. Besides, the film is not dedicated to the representation of Batman and Joker’s fight, but rather to the depiction of the evolution of a lonely broken soul.
Arthur Fleck/Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) who, because of the social difficulties and the personal disappointments he experiences, ends up becoming a criminal. As previously mentioned, the film contains many symbols, and the most important one is probably Arthur’s laugh/smile. Since the beginning of the movie his laugh is described as a reaction to a mental condition that he has, which can also be seen as an ‘interior demon’ and as a representation of the corrupted and violent society he lives in. The cause of Arthur’s mental disorder and inappropriate laugh can be identified in the harassments he experienced as a child: as a matter of fact, as the plot develops, we come to understand that during his childhood he was abused by one of his mother’s boyfriends, whose identity is never revealed and whose actions caused serious physical and psychological consequences in Arthur’s life. Therefore, since the problems he is living with were acquired during his difficult childhood, we can refer to the mysterious mother’s boyfriend as a broader representation of Gotham, a city populated by filthy, violent and evil people.
As Arthur’s mother always told him, purpose in life was to bring joy and laughs into people’s lives, but in a city like Gotham every act of kindness is returned with violence and rejection; it will be just at the end, when he will become more evil than the city itself, that the people will finally notice and support him. Two fundamental scenes that describe the inner evolution of Arthur’s character are: the beginning and the final revolt. In the first scene Arthur looks himself in the mirror, struggling to smile, raising the corners of his mouth with his own hands, trying to ‘put on a happy face’ as his mother taught him to do. His mood, however, prevails over his efforts to appear happy. In contrast, towards the end of the film, Arthur himself says: “I thought my life was a tragedy, but I’ve realized it’s a f**king comedy”. This statement confirms that Arthur has finally found himself and he has embraced and accepted the violence of the city and his own character.
Moreover, the second scene shows Arthur who “rises” as Joker, and that previously smile, which seemed impossible, now becomes part of him also from the use of his own blood. Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation is incredible, he embraced the true and dark soul of a character which has always been described as a crazy and lunatic enemy but never until now has his story been told. Starting from the weight loss, that the actor had to commit, Joaquin has entered into the psychotic mind of Arthur Fleck by representing the sensibility and kindness of Arthur’s soul and transformed into elegance, confidence and madness when Arthur become Joker. Todd Phillips created a masterpiece not only by describing the descent into the darkness of a character but mainly by leaving many unanswered questions, which the audience can reflect on, leaving an open ending.
The cinematography and the music work in harmony to describe the darkness of the city and Arthur’s life, through the course of the film all of the scenes transmit darkness. The only colours that have more tone are the primary colors (red, yellow, green and blue) which are also the colors of Joker’s mask. However, the soundtrack and the cinematography begin to change only once Arthur starts to ‘fight back’ to the events that happens to him, an example of this are the bathroom dance scene and the stairs dance scene. In fact, in the first scene the music plays a fundamental role, with the use of violins and bowed instruments, which underlines not a state of fear, loneliness or anxiety but rather a transformation and a feeling of strength and power.
The second scene uses not only the soundtrack but also effective lighting, in fact, for most of the film it is very rare to see any daylight, (apart from when Arthur begins to transform himself). In this particular scene, Arthur/Joker walks down on the stair dancing and feeling confident about himself probably for the first time in his life. Pivotal as until that moment those stairs have always been depicted as leaving in the darkness and him always walking up them in exhaustion. This epitomises the film, in one moment, the transformation and acceptance opens the doors for progression.
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