Joker has turned out to be one of the most controversial films in recent memory. While a portion of the critics loves the film, there are also many who find the movie a dangerous glorification of violence. The director of the film, Todd Phillips, certainly has not been helping its case, as a lot of his interviews have sounded grossly arrogant and at times ignorant. Some people just aren’t good at PR or dealing with the press.
However, there’s no denying his unbending passion for the film. Todd Phillips recently did a video with Vanity Fair in which he breaks down the brilliant opening scene of the movie. Just to give you a quick description of the film’s opening scene, here’s what I wrote in my review:
When we first meet Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips’ Joker, he’s in his clown makeup, looking himself in a mirror, stretching his lips wide to force a smile, eyes wet with tears. You feel a thick cloud of sadness hovering above your head in the theatre hall. We then see Arthur in his full clown getup carrying a sign and doing a goofy dance outside a shop. The jazzy tunes of the piano tell us when the film is set in: The 80s. A bunch of teenage punks jack the signage from his hands and bolt.
He’s then beaten up by those kids in a dingy alley. The sounds of the piano are heard no more, replaced by a synth score that invokes a sense of sorrow. As he lays on the ground in pain, with tears flowing down his eyes, in the middle of black garbage bags and overflowing trash cans, wondering why life keeps screwing him in the ass, the camera gently, like a ballerina on her tippy toes, pulls back and the words JOKER occupies the entirety of the screen.
In the video below, Todd Phillips breaks down these opening sequences:
In the 12 minute video, Phillips talks about the tone of the film, among many aspects.
“I think the thing I’m most proud about this film is that unsettling tone, that sort of slow ramp-up into insanity. I always obsess over the opening shot of movies. It’s a great storytelling device. With the benefit of this scene, with the local news playing underneath it and we meet Arthur alone, he’s putting on his makeup.
“Everything in the movie is meant to be unsettling. So anytime we move the camera…it’s meant to give off this unsettling vibe of this guy who’s pretty much separated from everybody else. Even in this locker room space, you hear the voices of four or five guys over here who’s playing cards and talking about whatever. And Arthur’s here alone, not part of the group figuring out how to keep a smile on his face. And one of the themes in the film is smile and the idea of putting on a happy face. His mother told him that he was born to bring joy and laughter — it’s something that Arthur wrestles with throughout the movie. So in this scene as we find him pulling up his mouth and pulling down his mouth, sort of fighting the comedy-tragedy that is his life.”
There’s a lot more insight in the video so do give it a watch.