I finally got to rewatch Joker in the theater. I’m really glad I did. Some details only reveal themselves on the big screen, especially when you can’t pause, fast-forward, or rewind. There’s something about watching a movie in a theater that changes the experience, and I don’t know why. It took me seeing Sunset Boulevard in the theater to realize that the film heavily implied that Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond were sleeping together. I also laughed at the George C. Scott routines in Dr. Strangelove when I saw the movie in a theater; on a tv or computer screen, they always fell flat. When I rewatched Joker, I was able to pick up a lot that I might have subliminally noticed the first time, but only really consciously assimilated this time around.
Here are some of the new things I noticed. Spoilers follow.
- I went to see Joker at a Saturday evening showing on November 30. The movie theater was at least 85% full, even though the film was two months into its theatrical run. Granted, there were only two showings per day, instead of the 10+ when I saw the movie on opening weekend, and it was a Saturday night. I was expecting a few stragglers and fans, maybe half full at the most, but the theater was packed. We came about five minutes before the trailers and had to sit in the front.
- All the major plot threads and motifs are set up in the first 15-20 minutes. You know all the major characters (except the two detectives and the fratty bankers) by that point.
- Even the staircase makes an appearance about ten minutes into the movie, right after Arthur picks up his medication at the pharmacy. Arthur ascends the staircase at several points in the movie, usually when he’s feeling distressed. Later in the film, he’s shown manically dancing and descending the stairs. Descent into madness? Into an alter persona? Into hell? (Doesn’t he already live there?)
- Really smart to have Joker reveal himself through dance, violence, and jokes, often in the same beat (“You know who’s not? Him.”). Phoenix is very good at using his entire body to show what Arthur’s feeling and thinking. He can be graceful, vulnerable, and scary in the same motion. I’d like to see more movies use body language and dance like this. Maybe it’s not an accident there’s a Fred Astaire clip in this film.
- The guy giving the radio report (about the garbage strike) is James L. Brooks. Is it the same James L Brooks of The Simpsons fame? Is it a real report from the archives?
- The “super-rats” are a motif throughout the movie. I completely missed them the first time around. One scurries by when Arthur’s talking on the payphone, and they’re walking in the background while Bruce Wayne stands over his parent’s bodies. There must be other appearances that I missed. They go hand-in-hand with the garbage lying around.
- Who is Arthur’s real father? I started leaning away from Thomas Wayne on the second viewing. The way Thomas Wayne dismissed Arthur in the bathroom seemed very fluid, without any trace of deception or guilt. True, Wayne is a stone cold character, and it’s possible he’s lied to himself so thoroughly he believes it too. It also makes more mythological sense for Bruce and Arthur to be half-siblings. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to have Penny adopt her own kid, which adds a needless, extra wrinkle to the lie. You’ll need to involve an adoption agency, maybe a fake agency, plus some government department that handles these situations–and somebody could ask the obvious question: why would a woman adopt her own kid?
- If Penny is Arthur’s biological mother, there will be records of her giving birth somewhere, or someone might remember her pregnant, in the hospital, etc. Penny and Arthur might both inherit the same condition, or look very much alike, and raise questions somewhere along the line. Why not just pay Penny to say the father is some sailor named Russ? Why not pay her to give the kid up to another family, one who knows nothing about the parentage? Lies get complicated fast, and they unravel fast too–or they can. It also seemed wrong for Thomas to keep her in Gotham, where she could ambush him, run to the press, make a scene somewhere, etc. I mean, if you’re going to pay a lot of money to a lot of people to fake an adoption, you can probably afford a one-way ticket to Metropolis.
- Then again. There’s the inscription on the back of Penny’s photo. Penny mentioning having to sign some papers. Maybe it wasn’t her boyfriend who chained Arthur to the radiator, but one of Wayne’s thugs. That would explain why Penny is such a shut-in all these years later, if she was traumatized the last time she got “out of line” (i.e. not just writing letters). I know at least one person who started leaning the other way while watching it for the second time.
- There actually is a use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile,” when Arthur’s having his “date” with Sophie out on the town. I didn’t really notice it the first time.