Original Music by: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Duration: 36 min
Label: Water Tower Music
Joker took a lot of people by surprise, by just how bleak and unnerving it was. One of the major aspects of that heavy feeling deep inside you throughout the film was the tremendous score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado). The score is constant and ominous, building and building, unbearably so from a narrative standpoint. In areas in which a lighter track would normally be included, Guðnadóttir has made sure that there is no respite, the listener is buckled in and there is no getting off this ride once it’s started.
Emotion and atmosphere are prevalent throughout the score. Building and torturing when needed, truly showing how Arthur is at breaking point when his spiral begins. What is most impressive is how simple the soundtrack is. This, of course, is not a criticism, but the simple use of the instruments to construct such an unforgiving world is excellent. There are no little flourishes it is consistently grim and it needs to be. From interviews, Hildur Guðnadóttir stated that she began working on the score during the pre-production stage. This has been time well spent going over the story is evident with how on the level the bleakness is for not only Arthur but the people of Gotham.
Hoyt’s Office kicks us off the album and right away a tense and unsettling tone that will not shift for the rest of the score. What there is of the main theme begins here, full of drawn-out cellos trying to hold on to the note for dear life, much like Arthur. Everything is deep and heavy, pushing down as the theme continues in Defeated Clown. Only now drums slowly pound their way to our senses, signalling the true beginning of the end of Arthur as we know him. Everything is slow and methodical in the opening tracks with the haunting minimalism ever-present.
Following Sophie starts as Defeated Clown left us, the drums slowly coming, stepping forward, but now they begin to get heavier, louder. The intensity builds and builds, becoming as threatening as it has at any other point. Brilliant work from Guðnadóttir to get the listener to this position of helplessness, so early on. Young Penny is one of the very few tracks that bring softness to the forefront. The softness is still undoubtedly downbeat, but the threat, the ominous tones are gone, if only for a short while.
The ominous nature of Meeting Bruce Wayne is apt considering the lore between the two characters in the future. This is accentuated by the tick-tocking of a wood instrument throughout. Time is counting down until these two characters meet again and have endless counters as foes. With this countdown in the background of the track makes the listener subconsciously aware of their future. But also to the threat of the present, we do not know how the characters will end by the end of the encounter. The strings continue to stretch and warp and feel as if they are twisting and tightening more and more. Echoing Arthur’s spiralling psyche.
Arthur Comes to Sophie starts as Following Sophie finished, the drums loud and thudding and omnipresent the level of threat peaks with the screeching of the strings. Subway brings back the main theme, but bleaker than ever. The ease in which Following Sophie could be mistaken for a track in horror film is unsettling. All normal expectations have ceased in this score. The drawn-out percussion sounding like warping metal and the strings relentlessly holding on. This is probably the busiest of the tracks on the score, so much is going on throughout, epitomises Arthur transforming to who he needs to become.
Bathroom Dance feels more like a track of acceptance of bad deeds being done for necessity. It is solemn, emphasised for the first time by vocals. The feeling of discomfort is now present as with scores from horror features, the strings drag on for a couple of seconds too long. Such a simple but effective technique to unsettle someone. As an audience, we know the usual length of musical cues in sequences like this. Guðnadóttir knows this and is able to flip our expectations when we least want her to. It can easily unsettle someone quite easily and has been done so to terrific effect in Learning How to Act Normal. The entire piece crescendo’s with Call Me Joker. Here we find all of the haunting cues from throughout the album meshed together to form a presence that for better or worse is here to stay with us.
Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the soundtrack is that it is dreadfully short. Songs are short and in its entirety, runs at a brisk 36 minutes. Due to the inclusion of multiple songs, sadly this means the soundtrack is stifled. Or a theory could be that the soundtrack in its current form was all that the film required. There are long instances of silence throughout the film with the orchestral cues only emitting to our senses when absolutely required. This minimalism is a nice change of pace as some soundtracks do tend to have everything and anything included and just seem too busy.
The narrative work with the soundtrack is on a high level and deserves a plentiful amount of praise. As mentioned, the film and the soundtrack are companion pieces. To fully appreciate this soundtrack, it is essential to watch the film shortly afterwards. Listening to the soundtrack can only bring a certain amount of admiration. They are a companion piece and having one without the other is just a waste. But, as much as they are essential together. Guðnadóttir has created a piece which can tell its own bleak atmospheric narrative. One of pure despair and loneliness. Very few albums will in case you into the world of the characters much as this one will. It truly works. Will you play it on loop? I highly doubt it. But with such an expertly crafted soundtrack, appreciation comes easy here.
Joker (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack) is available for purchase or streaming now.