Walking in the cinema, I had no expectations whatsoever. I’ve not read any of the comics or watched a Batman movie (no hate please). But this was something else, wasn’t it?
Joker was painful to watch. Painful in the most realistic way possible. Why, you ask? It was twisted, hands down.
You can’t deny the movie addressed many real-world problems that most people are used to ignoring. That said, it sure caused a big hoo-ha, dividing people into groups that either supported the realism factor, or that thought the film was too deep and disturbing.
And if you’re wondering, I personally fall under the group that supports the realism.
But this post holds the voice of a few others, written and perceived in a way beyond my very own imagination – touching these primary aspects: its story, its soundtrack and its cinematography.
– Samantha Ong, Production Designer
1. The Story & Characters
This movie brought a story and flow that people wouldn’t have imagined. From its start, I felt conflicted because I could empathise with Arthur despite knowing his inevitable end.
As the story progresses, Arthur’s laughing becomes the pivotal issue. He would laugh at bad times, or in bad situations, and we learn this is in part due to his mum asking him to smile through a tragic childhood. The film showed us it isn’t terrible to be depressed or have mental conditions, what is terrible is the expectation to behave “normally”. The idea of always wanting others to be like us, rendering all other points of view a form of madness if they deviate from the norm.
Through the film, Arthur endures so much bullying and abuse, even being framed by his colleagues with his possession of a gun. All these troubles penetrate Arthur’s psyche, and the cumulative pain drove Arthur to become a “joker” by doing what he does best: laughing during the bad.
This movie shows us nobody is born bad but instead broken by their circumstances. Here, Arthur’s breaking point arrives with his decision of creating his own happiness, instead of constantly seeking it. Thereafter, he becomes irrevocably and wholly consumed by another identity – the Joker.
– Yu Ren, Motion Designer
2. The Sonic Madness
In case you thought Hollywood couldn’t reinvent a classic supervillain like The Joker – well, joke’s on you! Todd Philips’s adaptation of the Clown Prince’s origin is sure to make you feel a whole spectrum of emotions.
There’s a saying that “Bad sound is obvious, good sound is invisible” – believe me when I say this: the overall sound design and score arrangements were anything BUT invisible. On the contrary, both the sound and music in Joker added weight to Arthur’s character development and gave you hints into his descent to madness. It’s rich, real, foreboding and menacing.
Throughout the film, the dance between quiet moments and orchestral sections lend a sense of underlying dread and despair that really gets beneath your skin, unraveling repressed emotions that you’ve kept within.
I loved the way crescendo strings were used to amp up Arthur’s emotions in key pivotal moments, and how the echoes of late 1970/80s-esque songs underpinned Arthur’s own fantasy and disillusionment for things happening around him.
The scene that uses sound and music so cleverly is when Arthur finally has the guts to perform stand-up at a comedy club, and totally loses it; yet when we think his performance couldn’t go further down the rabbit hole, Jimmy Durante’s Smile kicks in, and Arthur’s routine seemingly picks up. It then cuts to him spending a lovely evening out with his supposed love interest, Sophie. We soon realise that the song choice was a reflection of Arthur’s inner fantasies, and that the reality of that evening was actually bleak and foreboding. This signalled the start to Arthur’s downward spiral into depression and eventually, insanity.
– Jonathan Lee, Lead Strategist + Certified Sound Engineer
One thing that stood out to me in the film was the use of the stairs as a representation of Arthur’s character arc. I believe there were 4 prominent stairs scenes (can’t confirm because I’ve only watched it once).
The first 2 stairs scenes appeared at the very start. They were almost identical to each other. After another tough and mundane day at work, Arthur takes the same routined path back home. Almost saying: as though life isn’t giving him enough sh*t, there is one more battle before reaching the comfort of his own home.
The scene is shot at a low angle to show the enormity of the stairs compared to Arthur. The super-slow pan and the long shot of this scene also relays the struggle of Arthur walking up them.
The third stairs scene happens when he’s fired as a clown from HAHA. But, for the first time, we are shown Arthur walking down a flight of stairs. Here he vandalises the “Don’t forget to smile” poster while walking down. Instead of feeling defeated, he’s found a purpose and is filled with the excitement of what he could become.
And the final stairs scene is, of course, the most iconic of them all – Joker in his full Joker outfit, dancing down the steps. Fully embracing himself for who he finally really thinks he is. The stairs are no longer an obstacle in his life, but a bridge to his insanity.
This can be seen with the cinematography: no longer are there long slow takes and pans, now we are greeted with close-up shots, side shots, and mid shots. And so no longer do you feel the struggle of Arthur Fleck, but instead excitement at The Joker’s arrival.
The stairs, usually an insignificant object, is the film’s symbol of Arthur Fleck’s transformation. It signifies the character ascending in the beginning as a normal man, and descending as The Joker at the end – transforming him from a broken man walking up those steps to a new man, now dancing, down those same stairs.
– Jeremy Phun, Motion Lead
Overall, not only was the depth and weight of every character amazingly conveyed and executed through its storytelling, but its soundtrack, cinematography and setting left everyone speechless.
Whether in a good or bad way though – we’ll leave it to you to decide.
The views expressed by the authors on this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of C27, our CEO, the management, the fish in our fish tank, and/or all the awesome people within the agency. The content and opinions shared are the personal views of the author so please don’t sue us.
…or the author.