Today I am going to re-watch 2019’s Joker. The film – from director Todd Phillips – stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker and is a standalone tale about one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time.
I first saw Joker at the cinema back in late 2019. I was blown away by just how good it was and when the movie was given a home video release, I purchased a digital copy on the first day. To date, I have watched the film three times.
I am about to watch Joker for a fourth time. The difference this time around? I am going to write about the film in real-time as it plays out in front of me. Thoughts, feelings, general musings and asides – they will all be recorded as I view the film.
Of course, if you have not already watched Joker then I would recommend not reading beyond this sentence unless – as the discussion might not make complete sense and you will have the film spoiled for you, which I certainly don’t want to do.
10secs – The first thing to note is how much I love the fact Joker utilises the old Warner Bros. Pictures logo during the opening. This retro logo makes it clear that a.) the film is going to do something different and b.) Joker is a period piece.
1min 10secs – Arthur Fleck is painting his face. There is a sadness in his eyes and it is clear that it doesn’t go away, even as he distorts his mouth into a smile. There is a feeling that the make-up and the smile are just a way to mask what is going on inside. So much is conveyed in just a moment.
1min 35secs – The on-screen credit font, the muted colour palette, the fashion – all of these elements are helping to place this film in a time bubble of the 1980s.
3mins – The music in this film is incredible. Hildur Guðnadóttir won the Academy Award for Best Original Soundtrack and deservedly so. The score is perfect throughout this film and plays an important part in the way the story is told.
3mins 40secs – As the opening credits conclude, the title: JOKER flashes up on screen in bright, bold letters. The letters engulf the screen. It feels oppressive. Even the title of the movie is helping to set the tone.
4mins 55secs – “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” That line feels so relevant in 2019/2020.
6mins 20secs – Arthur Fleck is a troubled man. He clearly has some issues, which causes him to see a psychiatrist.
6mins 30secs – The Arkham psychiatrist looks through Arthur’s joke book, which is filled with random thoughts and disturbing images. He has also written: “I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.” The psychiatrist is not responding to this book in the way that she should. This ‘joke’ book is clearly not a joke, and it is also a red flag that Arthur needs help.
8mins – Arthur is on a bus, heading home. The bus is filled with regular people, going about their day. It feels like the usual daily commute to/from work. Anyone who undertakes a daily commute understands how tiring it can be. The hustle and bustle, the weather, the time it takes – it all gets monotonous. This scene grounds Arthur as a regular Joe.
9mins 45secs – Arthur’s journey home appears to be a very long. There is also a very lengthy flight of stairs to climb. It looks tiring just watching this. If anything, the vibe here is that Arthur is getting beat down by life. Just getting from A to B is a huge effort.
11mins – The first mention of Thomas Wayne in the movie. You know, when I first saw Joker, I was surprised to hear Thomas Wayne mentioned in the film; I was even more surprised to see him. I didn’t expect any connection to the Wayne family in this picture, so this caught me off guard.
12mins 15secs – Robert De Niro appears as talk show host, Murray Franklin. He is excellent in this movie. Perfect casting – especially when you think about his association with Taxi Driver (1976), in which he plays a mentally unstable veteran.
14mins – “She always tells me to smile and put on a happy face.”
16mins 45secs – Arthur’s work colleague, Randall gives him a gun. This begins Arthur’s descent.
18mins – There is a softness to Arthur’s voice. At no point here does it feel like he could ever become the Joker. This makes his eventual transformation so amazing.
18mins 45secs – Arthur is being chewed out by his boss about a missing sign. As he stands and stares blankly at his boss, with a smile fixed on his face, the background noise begins to transition into what sounds like someone being hit. This is a very clever moment, as it seems as if Arthur is imagining beating up his boss. He isn’t. In reality, it is simply segueing into the next scene where Arthur is taking out his frustrations on trash bags outside his work. But maybe he was imagining beating up his boss.
19mins 15secs – Those mountainous stairs make a reappearance as Arthur walks home. The camera is at the bottom looking up, which elongates them and makes the climb appear to be such a chore that Arthur has to endure every day. It’s moments like this which really connect with the audience – because most people can appreciate how tiring things can be from time-to-time.
20mins – The first interaction between Arthur and Arthur’s neighbour, Sophie Dumond takes place in a lift in Arthur’s building. By putting the two characters together in a lift it forces them to interact and creates the initial introduction of what is to come. Will Sophie become a significant character? That is what is being implied with this set up.
21mins 30secs – Arthur’s mother, Penny Fleck is played by Frances Conroy. The actress has another connection to the Batman movie series, having appeared in 2004’s Catwoman in the role of Ophelia Powers.
23mins 40secs – Arthur begins to stalk Sophie. This is incredibly disturbing, given the eventual reveal regarding their relationship. This whole sequence demonstrates Arthur’s obsessive behaviour.
26mins 45secs – “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
27mins 15secs – Sophie appears at Arthur’s door and calls him out about the stalking. It is crucial that this scene takes place so soon after the stalking sequence. It appears as if Sophie is OK with Arthur’s behaviour and that instantly disarms the situation. In truth, this scene is a complete fantasy on Arthur’s part – Sophie isn’t really at the door, but that won’t be revealed until later.
28mins 45secs – Arthur takes a gun to a hospital. Not a wise move.
34mins – One thing that is very apparent about this movie is just how scary it is. On one hand it is scary because what happens to Arthur feels very real, and on the other hand, at times it is visually scary because of the way the scenes are set. The lighting, Arthur’s make-up, the cold calculated way in which he kills three business men on the subway – it is very disturbing. He has little regard for human life and it becomes very apparent here.
35mins – The world that Arthur lives in feels so grubby. Gotham is in a state of decay. Director Todd Phillips has done a marvellous job at making the city feel so rundown. Where has all the money gone? Why is there so much poverty?
37mins – Because of the incident with the gun at the hospital, Arthur has been fired from his job as a clown/entertainer. This is another significant moment in his mental downfall. As the movie progresses, he will continue to disconnect from the outside world. This is important because often it is a series of events which derail a person, rather than one moment.
41mins – “All I have are negative thoughts.”
41mins 25secs – Funding for social services has been cut, meaning Arthur has lost another link to the outside world – this time his medical help. The stability and structure that he had is beginning to unravel.
44mins – I must say that even though I am on my fourth viewing of Joker, this film continues to captivate me. There is something truly special about the way in which this movie unfolds.
50mins – Arthur is under the impression that Thomas Wayne is his father. This is another delusion but it is one conjured up by his mother.
51mins 30secs – Bruce Wayne gets a very minor role here. Once again, I was very surprised too see Bruce in this picture, as I did not expect it.
53mins 30secs – Also a brief appearance for Alfred Pennyworth. The first time I watched this film I did not realise this was Alfred. I still find it hard to see. Of all the casting in this movie, this is the one bit that doesn’t quite gel for me. And yes, I know Alfred’s role here is so minimal that it doesn’t matter that much, but I still feel like this isn’t Alfred.
59mins 50secs – “Check out this joker.”
1hr 2mins – There is a clear divide in Gotham, between the people who have money and the people who don’t. This story is very reflective of the current times that we are living in, where we are seeing increased poverty and homelessness. While this movie grounds itself in the 1980s, all these years on and things are still the same.
1hr 7mins – Thomas Wayne does not come off well in this movie – but that’s kind of the point. He’s rich and doesn’t understand the problems faced by people who are finding every day a struggle. Once again, it could be argued that this speaks volumes about people who are put into power from more privileged backgrounds, who simply have no experience of daily struggles.
1hr 8mins – A very interesting scene here involving Arthur climbing into a fridge. Why does Arthur climb into the fridge? I believe it is a moment which is entirely open to interpretation. For me it is a sign that Arthur is completely shutting himself off from the outside world. He is putting himself in a space where no one can get to him.
1hr 12mins 30secs – The truth about Penny’s mental health is starting to come out. She has suffered from mental health issues in the past and this put Arthur in danger.
1hr 14mins 30secs – Another revelation: Arthur was adopted. Also, when he was a boy, Penny stood by and let Arthur get abused. These types of revelation help to layer this story. It isn’t just a case of things going wrong in Arthur’s life as an adult, there have been issues under the surface for years. Good writing.
1hr 16mins 45secs – Joker takes another dark turn as Arthur breaks into Sophie’s flat. It is at this moment that everything becomes clear – these two characters have no connection and almost every scene of Arthur and Sophie together was just in Arthur’s head. I must admit, I did not spot this during my initial viewing.
1hr 18mins 50secs – Arthur leaves Sophie’s apartment, and her fate is left ambiguous. Did he kill her? Sophie never appears again, suggesting that Arthur has killed her, but throughout the film, Arthur only kills people who wrong him. As Sophie hasn’t wronged him, it would seem unlikely that he would kill her.
1hr 24mins – Arthur has killed his mother, and now is rehearsing his forthcoming appearance on The Murray Franklin Show. A key moment takes place here – Arthur pretends to shoot himself. This is another very clever scene, as it throws the audience off guard when he does eventually appear on the show. It would appear as if he is going on TV to commit suicide – but is he?
1hr 27mins – “I stopped taking my medication. I feel better now.”
1hr 28mins – A brutal scene. Arthur kills Randall. This scene is so unexpected and horrific that it shocks me every time. Just when you think you know where this film is heading it throws a curveball.
1hr 29mins 30secs – Randall’s death was scary and very tense, but the real tense moment takes place directly afterward, when Arthur’s former colleague, Gary gets momentarily trapped in Arthur’s apartment.
1hr 30mins 25secs – With Penny and Randall dead, and Arthur no longer on his medication, the Joker is born. And as this moment takes place it becomes very apparent that what has occurred on screen is arguably one of the most realistic portrayals of a descent into darkness.
1hr 30mins 45secs – As Arthur leaves his apartment in Joker make-up, the Gary Glitter song, ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ plays out. The use of this song was something which caused a fair bit of controversy at the time of the movie’s release, due to Glitter’s convictions for sex offenses. In the UK, Gary Glitter songs do not get airtime.
1hr 31mins – Arthur dances his way down the same set of stairs that appeared twice before, but unlike the previous scenes, where Arthur was battling up them, here he is gleefully dancing down them. The stairs are a metaphor for how he feels, as well as his descent down a different path.
1hr 36mins 40secs – “Murray, one small thing. When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?”
1hr 36mins 55secs – Sat in the dressing room, back stage at The Murray Franklin Show, once again Arthur imitates a suicide scene. Once again, this throws the audience off guard.
1hr 38mins – At various points during Joker, Arthur appears to dance as though he is moving to music that only he can hear. I take this as though he is moving to his own beat and that he is further and further removed from reality.
1hr 41mns 20secs – “It’s been a rough few weeks, Murray.”
1hr 41mins 40secs – Arthur admits to killing three men on the subway. He openly admits this because he believes he has nothing left to lose.
1hr 43mins 20secs – “If it was me dying on the sidewalk, you’d walk right over me. I pass you every day and you don’t notice me, but these guys – what, because Thomas Wayne went and cried about them on TV?”
1hr 44mins – Arthur makes comments about how people are always yelling at each other. This feels like a commentary about social media and how users interact online. Some people argue, they don’t listen to other opinions, and it all just turns into endless shouting.
1hr 45mins 10secs – “You get what you f***ing deserve.” And with that, Arthur kills Murray. It is a shocking moment and is unexpected. Twice the film sets up the idea that Arthur will kill himself live on air, but instead he kills Murray.
1hr 49mins – Arthur/Joker has started a movement which has sent Gotham City into chaos. Riots on the street and the Joker viewed as a champion of the people.
1hr 49mins 25secs – And now for another moment I did not expect to see in this film – the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Was it needed? It is debatable, as this film is about the Joker, not about Bruce Wayne/Batman, but I don’t think it detracts from the story. The more times I watch Joker, the more times I feel like the scene slots into this film quite well.
1hr 51mins 20secs – More dancing from Arthur/Joker.
1hr 52mins – As Arthur/Joker smears blood across his face to create a smile, it is clear that Arthur is gone and only Joker remains.
1hr 55mins – And as the film draws to a close, the Joker runs through the corridors of Arkham. A legend is born.
Post screening thoughts
Superb. Simply superb. Every time I watch Joker, I am reminded of just how good it is.
As mentioned earlier, Hildur Guðnadóttir won the Academy Award for Best Original Soundtrack, which was one of a number of awards handed over for this film. Perhaps the most notable was the Academy Award for Best Actor which went to Joaquin Phoenix.
Joker was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards 2020, but it lost out to Parasite. Parasite’s win was well deserved, but for me I wish Joker had bagged a joint award (I know that isn’t a thing).
Joker isn’t just a great comic book movie, or even just a great Batman movie, it is a film which transcends its background. And in doing so, it delivers a statement piece which opens up discussions on mental health, poverty, the class system and everything in between.
I truly believe that everyone who watches this movie has some opinion about what they have seen – whether that is good or bad. It provokes a reaction and wants audiences to engage with what they are being shown.
Joaquin Phoenix is truly mesmerising as Arthur Fleck, and he provides the film with a show-stopping performance, but praise must also be heaped on the supporting players of this picture, including Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy. They help to make this film feel so real. And it does feel real – every ounce of it.
In my mind, Arthur’s downfall is an interesting look at how events like this could happen in real life, if people are not given the support they need. I’m not saying everyone would turn out like Arthur did, but I certainly think there is a huge degree of realism in his transformation into Joker.
Without doubt, Joker is one of the best Batman movies, which is high praise indeed when you consider some of the great entries in the series (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) etc). Todd Phillips pulled off something quite special with this picture.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by I’ll Get Drive-Thru to read this discussion on Joker. For further posts about the Batman movie series, please take a look around this blog or alternatively check out one of the recommended reads below.
- What if Batman: Unchained?
- When was the first appearance of the Joker? …and other iconic Batman villains
- Best quotes from Joker (2019)