Hello! Usually we give our thoughts on a range of trailers (check out a post from yesterday for some trailer goodness). But, when a big or very interesting trailer comes up that deserves a bit of a breakdown, it would be rude not to right? So, expect a few theories and possible spoilers and all that jazz. But first let’s enjoy the teaser trailer for Joker below.
A pretty good trailer and one of the best of the year so far in my opinion, it did what other big marque trailers have failed to do and that is sell us on it early. The Aladdin build up spectacularly failed in this regard and so far Toy Story 4 isn’t doing much better. If you keep your thoughts to comic book related films then this will probably stand along with Logan by making you want to see the film from the first trailer. Anyway, let’s break this one down.
He is a man struggling with his condition
From the start we are aware that Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is struggling mentally and that is very important to bring to the audiences attention from the get go. Too often in live action comic book adaptations we see one incident change that person completely and it just feels pretty cheap. It is a lot more fulfilling to have the antagonist be someone who is so broken down from the going ons around them in the world and in their brain that eventually the damage takes it’s toll and the change happens. Yes, it would take a little more time, but it would be much more worthwhile in the long run.
I enjoy the main characters in a film I watch to be fully fleshed individuals so this was a very welcome change and refreshing. It isn’t always the hero that has to go through the hardship Black Panther showed this with Erik Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) character. He had reasons for what he did other than something flimsy or just going mad, but also allowed his grief to take over him too much. Complex characters are always the better for a film in my opinion. I usually assume this is usually done so we do not pity the villain, but we can hate or dislike the person and for what they do and slightly understand it at the same time. Hopefully more adaptations take this approach as it feels more authentic to do so.
Though I said he should already be struggling, any iteration of the Joker should also be adept at misleading and manipulating others no matter when form he is currently in. You can evolve to have confidence as we see later on, but you can’t just suddenly have the ability to manipulate, that has to be there, every if it is slightly hidden. The fact that when he is asked if talking to someone about his issues is helpful to him, is a very quick glimpse that he has enough know how to please people when he is forces out that smile. The only question is how much is the psychiatrist buying from Arthur, he does seem rather unconvincing here, but I wonder if the voice over we hear throughout the trailer is him speaking to his Doctor.
Also if you watch it again, look at how he is almost having to bite the inside of his mouth to stop himself from saying something he shouldn’t. He just about has control over his emotions to bring the correct response to who he is speaking to. To show how downtrodden his life and mental state is, we are shown a dauntingly long staircase he seemingly has to walk everyday. This is obviously a very literal visual of his mental state as life is simply wearing him down. There is great symbolism in just that image of him dragging himself up those stairs. He is still trying to get there, but it is getting harder and harder for him.
His mother is the lynch pin to his sanity
Right away we are presented with this relationship with his mother (played by Frances Conroy). You can take away two theories from this portion of the trailer either Arthur is too close to his mother or as I think, she is sick in some way and he is required to look after her and adding this pain is becoming too much for him to bare for his continually fracturing mental state. When around his mother he is playful, obviously playing up to the line “My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face” he is lying to her, letting her know that her boy is okay and will be okay and he just wants her to enjoy herself. But immediately after that line we return to Arthur on his own hunched and sobbing. It is an act that he is struggling to keep up and we are starting to see more and more the reasoning for his breakdown and eventual turn he is destined to have. You get the feeling that if or when something happens to his mother that is when everything will change for him and Gotham.
A quick mention to the cinematography and lighting in these shots by the way, I will talk more about it later, but the shot of Arthur sobbing is beautiful.
The Devil is in the details…
Just take a second to read that page and examine it as it is perfect for a breakdown such as this. It tells you everything about his current mental state. He is trying to make it as a comedian, so is trying to get his jokes written down, but he can’t keep his concentration long enough to work on his jokes for his budding comic routine. Is that because he isn’t taking his medication that is beside his right hand? His jokes are pretty poor one liners, but slowly over the course of that page his mind has drifted from the task at hand and he is talking about his mental illness. “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t”. That is terrific and very true even for the 80’s (when the film is set even though it looks like a film made in the 80’s set in the 70’s). But what I love is that as he loses concentration his handwriting also loses control of itself. It is fairly tidy at the top of the page, but it worsens the further we get down. He has no one he can trust to speak to about his thoughts and has to resort to writing it down, but when he does, because it is so traumatic for him to let it out of his brain, it is manic.
Arthur knows how he should act, and how people want him to act. His mother for example, but what if he just can’t do it anymore, is it so bad to let people know how he is really feeling? Having this pent up for who knows how many years have made him emotionally crippled.
He isn’t the Joker… yet.
One thing we know about the Joker in the history of the comics and films, is that he would not take a beating from teenagers like that and curl up upset from it. We see a change later on in the trailer where he is beaten up again, but this time he is laughing. He is wearing the same costume in both attacks, so it will be interesting if the train attack is the later of the two on the same day. Has he cracked because of the first attack and is laughing manically on the the train because of it and when the others come for him he reacts differently. I have the feeling he is reeling those people on the train to attack him, as we know the Joker, even in his early infancy would have a plan if he was attacked again. But let’s focus on the first attack, is he curled up because he is afraid? Or is it because he is trying to control his emotions from getting out? Either way this is another knock to his self-esteem and mental state. Bit by bit he is being chipped away from the Arthur he knew himself to be. It will be said everywhere but the shot choices throughout this trailer and expectantly the film are gorgeous. The slow pull out and focus onto him is great.
This is when Jimmy Durante’s version of “Smile” begins and this is where we start to see the change in Mr Arthur Fleck.
A note about Gotham
Have you noticed anything about the background yet in Gotham? It is stockpiled with rubbish and dirt, not only are we seeing Arthur fall apart, but also the entire middle to lower class end of Gotham and we all know what happens at a certain point in the history of Gotham when things get bad for the city don’t we? As mentioned later in the trailer, Gotham has lost it’s way and it has lost it’s way with every aspect of it’s society, crime is up and occurring very publicly according to Thomas Wayne (played by Brett Cullen) who is being interviewed on TV that Arthur is watching. We know the incident being spoken about isn’t his and his wife’s murder. But will it happen in this film? Will the Joke be the cause of it?
As mentioned, not just by me but others, production wise and visually Joker looks more like a film set in the 70’s than the 80’s stylistically. More importantly it has been admitted that director Todd Phillips (yes the director of Old School and the Hangover films) has been heavily influenced by producer Martin Scorsese’s films set in that time, such as Taxi Driver (in fact the stories could run alongside each other in their tone) and Kings of Comedy. They are good choices to focus on if you want the look of your film to be different from the current modern fair.
When we get to Arthur walking towards Arkham State Hospital I was surprised, as I thought it was going to be called Arkham Asylum and it was a very pleasant surprise as Arkham was originally called Arkham Hospital in the comics. The only slight change is that now it under Government hands, which really makes sense from a realism stand point and to why it is now obviously failing in the next scenes of the trailer. As much as he can, he is trying to keep calm and keep his cool, even when someone is thrashing on a gurney beside him. Clenched fists and tensing yourself up will only work for so long it seems. The Joker is slowly coming out into Arthur’s personality as he able to produce that small smile and look innocent enough to someone in security seemingly still in Arkham. If we remember how he tried to act to his psychiatrist earlier in the trailer, there is a stark difference. Here we have someone who is able to manipulate a bit more and has the confidence to pull it off with a bit more ease.
He is trying to be normal
We get the first instance of a version of a famous Joker laugh and bless Arthur, he looks like someone who is desperately trying to fit in with others around him and is probably having to force every bit of that laugh and smile out of his body just to look his version of normal. That is the main thing to remember out of this. Arthur Fleck WANTS to be normal and to fit in and live a good life. He doesn’t want to feel different from others because of his illness, but is just plain tired of pretending that everything is okay. What follows for me is the most heart-breaking portion of the entire trailer.
The amount of effort he is having to do just to try and smile is honestly heart breaking. He wants to smile and to be able to smile so much, but his brain just won’t let him or maybe it just doesn’t know how to really smile. The single tear dripping down his cheek and resting there as he contorts his face to try and smile is great. His exasperation with himself after this isn’t and that brings an interesting aspect to the Joker that we haven’t seen in live action yet. Maybe he has the painted smile because he didn’t know what it was like to actually be happy? We always get the sad clown lines ready for this, but this is literally a true iteration of that.
From here we only get little glimpses of Arthur and now we are solely focused on who he has become. There is either a following for him as the Joker or he has cleverly leveraged his way into this turn from the people due to the sheer amount of clown masks (that he himself wears and puts in the bin when chased by a cop in the subway). If it is all from his work we obviously don’t know how he is gaining these people to help him or at the least support him, but it will be exciting to find out in October as I don’t want to know why or who he gets this following until then.
A short lived mystery was abound, on who this child was, but it is pretty obvious no? Especially if you just look at the cast sheet… The more interesting question will be why Arthur has decided to visit this house and why is he trying to force a smile out of young Bruce? Is it because he doesn’t want someone else to be as sad as he was, especially so young? Whatever his motive it isn’t exactly working. From comic book history we know Bruce said he was a happy child until his parent’s death, so to see a forlorn Bruce now before all of that would not make too much sense canonically, but hey who are we to judge. This is a supposed one shot film after all, they cane make their own rules! I would assume this is after the murder of Bruce’s parents and Arthur/The Joker has turned up to see what damage has been done. Plus the shot above is just down right perfect for a horror film, due to how unsettling it is. Whether we get much story with the Wayne’s remains to be seen, but I can envisage more tension between Joker and Thomas Wayne throughout this film.
Fully formed and loving it
Who is this guy!? If we went back a mere 60 seconds ago into the trailer, there is no way you could think that Arthur Fleck would turn into someone as confident and fluid as the Joker. He has removed all the shackles of wanting to be normal and has decided to veer head first in the other direction, but he is at ease with himself now and that it something he maybe hadn’t been his entire life. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle though and he looks great. The swagger he has to just put his feet up is great and it’s a brilliant shot. Again it is amazing to think how a director mostly known for comedies has been able to pull off so much with such a style, Phillips has gained a bit of a swagger to his directing it seems! In the clip that has the curtains opening for him at a late night show recording (Robert De Niro living the life his character in Kings of Comedy dreamt to have), watch his movements and watch his foot swivel before he is presented to the audience, he isn’t only acting or showing off to the audience and TV audience, but to everyone that can see him, this is him in all his smooth confident glory.
Arthur returns to those same stairs at the beginning of the trailer and now the sun is out and shining after a wet night and he is owning it and everything around him, he exudes confidence and it becomes pretty clear how he is able to get people on his side of things. But inside of going up, he is going down, does that show that his worries are leaving him so he can be free to go down or is he leaving and giving up on trying to be normal? We do see a few quick edits into the trailer, which I don’t necessarily think were required, but everything is working and working well here. Even the last spoken line in the trailer is perfect for this film “I used to think my life was a tragedy, and now I realise it is a comedy”
If you weren’t sold beforehand you should be in that last clip. That smile to himself is all you needed to know where Arthur has come. He is finally able to be himself, whether that is for good or bad (we know which way he goes…), and smiling is only just one small piece of that puzzle he has solved.
Overall a great trailer and I am quite excited for what we are to experience in October! I see no point in comparing all iterations of the Joker as it is a foolish endeavour as we have had so many different versions of the Joker and all of which the actor has brought their own unique style to the character, also this is just the trailer, wait to the film is actually out… Only 6 months to go! This is sadly just going to be a one and done story, as I can’t see Phoenix wanting to return even if the film is critically and financially successful.
Let us know what you thought of the trailer! Did you notice something I may have missed? Let me know as I love a good theory! Also, if you like these type of trailer breakdowns and which you would like to see next time.