Joker

I wanted to write this a couple of months ago, but then a combination of grad school apps and winter break sent me into a writing hiatus. With all the conflict and pandemonium going on around the world, I thought it would be a good time to revive the draft and finish it.

I’ll be looking at the Joker through the lens of the music.

The Joker was an intense, dark, and perverse movie by all accounts. The movie really pushed the envelope when it came to what we define as a superhero movie, providing a raw and unfiltered look into birth of one of the most notorious villains in fiction (or does it? More on this later). There was gripping acting by Joaquin Phoenix who truly paid homage to Heath Ledger’s performance of Joker (may he rest in peace), brilliant cinematography, and captivating dialogue. However, to me, what really made the movie was the music.

Let’s be honest when we think of movie soundtracks, we think of filler music and for the most part that’s what it is. However, in the Joker the composer Hildur Guðnadóttir and director Todd Phillip used the music as a window into the mind of the Joker. In pivotal scenes where the Joker danced in front of his bathroom mirror, stood on top of a cop car in the pouring rain, there was no dialogue, no maniacal laughter (okay maybe some maniacal laughter), but roaring, beautiful music. In essence, music became a literary device communicating to the audience in a way dialogue just can’t. To explore this point, I’ll walk through two of my favorite pieces from the soundtrack and explain how they add to certain scenes and explain my interpretation of the meaning of the film as a whole.

Hoyt’s Office

The Music

Oh, that beautiful cello. Doesn’t take much to figure out Hildur Guðnadóttir is originally a cellist. Throughout all this music, she takes cello motifs to a whole new level. The score begins with a low rumbling interspersed with random flourishes that quickly fade into the rumbling. The rumbling permeates throughout the score, almost nauseating to the listener. A melody final emerges teetering up and down, creating a feeling of discomfort and dread, but this also eventually fades into the rumbling.

Meaning

The Joker is slowly losing his mind as society cuts away all his tethers to reality. First his social worker was laid off and with it the Joker lost his access to his medications and therapy. Now, in Hoyt’s office, Hoyt is about to fire the Joker. Joker’s job gave him something to do rather than sit home and slowly sink deeper into his mental illness. With this context in mind, the slow rumbling in the music is the chorus of voices all speaking at once in Joker’s head making it impossible for him to think. Any cohesive, rational thought the Joker tries to have, any attempt to navigate the world around him, quickly drowns in the chaotic chorus pervading his mind. The melody oscillating up and down teeters in and out of lunacy. The discomfort and dread the audience feels is the realization that once Joker loses his job in Hoyt’s office there will be nothing keeping him from descending into insanity. Hoyt’s office is in effect the last straw.

Now I’ve seen movies achieve a similar effect by having a bunch of whispering voices play in the background or having a voiceover explain the descent to insanity. These methods do effectively communicate the state of the character but fail to communicate any feeling to the audience. Music on the other hand gets past this hurdle: the audience feels the dread and discomfort. No one needs to tell the audience what is happening in Hoyt’s office as the audience experiences the fragility of the Joker’s mental state.

Call Me Joker

The Music

Something brewing among a continuous methodical thumping. A melody tries to emerge, as the thumping intensifies, breaking off into an odd display, beautiful but cautious in its presentation. The drumming intensifies as the melody recedes. Chaos builds, almost droning out the soaring melody, until it remerges. Something beautiful, fragile, misunderstood, and completely original. The melody feels like it has emerged into the eye of a hurricane, finally escaping the monotonous thumping that had entrapped it before, like that scene in the matrix where they float above the clouds slightly for a second before they drop into the storm again. As if in on cue the thumping reemerges stronger than ever, and the melody refusing to submit soars louder and louder.

Meaning

All the joker wants is some recognition, some acknowledgement that he belongs in a society that continually pushes him away. Every time he tries to express himself, he is put down and reminded how he is nothing and worthless. The only time when he does not feel invisible, when someone actually notices his existence, is when he kills the three men on the subway. Suddenly, he is all over the news as this clown faced killer. What’s more people begin rallying to him, calling him a hero. Killing becomes expression. A way to finally be heard while being true to yourself. (This is the Joker’s perspective here)

The music echoes this fact. Needless to say, the melody is Joker and this thumping is the people around the Joker who constantly put him down. The Joker is the hero of his own story struggling to be heard and understood against crushing and apathetic treatment by his bystanders. However, the music reminds us the perverted nature of this expression as this melody is smooth by no regards, instead carrying a somber, sinister undertone that serves to remind us that Joker’s expression leads to the loss of innocent human life. The key here is the music presents the Joker’s perspective: he is the victim, he is the voice of the voiceless masses in perpetual poverty and subjugation, he is the hero Gotham deserves, but does not need.

Now it is far too easy to write off the movie as a promotion for gun violence. True, if we just consider what is shown the movie does glorify gun violence, showing the Joker celebrated for taking innocent human life (there’s definitely a point here). However, if we stop and listen to the music, a completely different picture emerges. The music is by no account joyous, celebratory, or laudatory. No, it is jarring, sinister, and off-putting. This is no celebration of gun violence, no commendation of a hero, but a lamentation of a lost soul. The music mourns the loss of a soul to the deep depths of insanity, another person who we, we, wouldn’t help and let go to succumb to the cowardice, inhumanity, and senselessness of gun violence. This person was not inherently evil, not inherently sinister, no they were just unlucky to be born in a broken family with no money to their name.

With this in mind, Joker is not about the Joker. It is not a villain origin story. It is not a celebration of gun violence. It is not a criticism about class conflict/imbalance (the themes are there, but this is not the focus). It is a call for action for each and every one of us to pay attention, to reach out, to help those around us. To listen each other, not point fingers, ridicule, or shout, before we all fall into the deep abyss of senseless violence.

Hope you enjoyed my latest post. If this is your first time to this blog and liked the content, please follow! If you are a returner, please consider sharing this blog with people who may find it interesting! Till next time!

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Overworked, tired, and caffeine fueled grad student looking to share my love of movies and music. Pardon misspellings, just learning how to write

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Yasha’s Musings

Yasha’s Musings

Overworked, tired, and caffeine fueled grad student looking to share my love of movies and music. Pardon misspellings, just learning how to write

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