Warning! MINOR SPOILERS for Joker ahead!
Joker includes a number of popular songs on its soundtrack, using them as the musical accompaniment to Arthur Fleck's descent into madness and mayhem. Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role, Joker is directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) from a script by he co-wrote with Scott Silver. The film is a standalone origin story for the villainous clown, unconnected with any other DC Comics movie and not a strict adaptation of any particular Joker story. Rather, Joker is heavily influenced by the films of director Martin Scorsese, like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, while also sharing some similarities with Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.
Joker snagged the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and has earned largely positive reviews, but the road to release has not been free of controversy. Joker's subject matter has received backlash, and in response, Phillips has taken an aggressive approach in defending his movie. Out of concern Joker's release may inspire violence, some theaters are heightening security and the U.S. military reportedly urged soldiers to remain vigilant during the film's opening weekend. Still, as the saying goes, "no publicity is bad publicity," and the buzz surrounding Joker remains very strong.
Joker's score is composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, a composer and cellist who previously wrote and performed for HBO's Chernobyl and Sicario, among others. Her score for Joker is somber and chilling, fitting the bleakness of Arthur's world, but it can also ramp up during the film's bursts of action. The songs featured in the movie, however, are largely upbeat tunes (with a few exceptions) that disguise the sad and at times wistful meaning behind their lyrics. Together, this music helps to emphasize Arthur's misery as well as his broken dreams - not to mention, provide an interesting accompaniment to Phoenix's strange and almost balletic dancing. Here's every song heard in Joker:
- "Everybody Plays The Fool" - The Main Ingredient
- "The Moon Is A Silver Dollar" - Lawrence Welk & His Orchestra
- "Slap That Bass" - Fred Astaire (from Shall We Dance)
- "If You're Happy And You Know It" - Chaim Tenenbaum
- "Send In The Clowns" - Frank Sinatra
- "My Name Is Carnival" - Jackson C. Frank
- "Smile" - Jimmy Durante
- "That's Life" - Frank Sinatra
- "Rock 'N' Roll (Part 2)" - Gary Glitter
- "White Room" - Cream
Many of the songs that appear in Joker are chosen for their obvious references to clowns and smiling. The biggest of these is "Send In The Clowns", originally written by Stephen Sondheim for his musical, A Little Night Music. The film includes the song twice: it's sung by the three Wall Street business men who attack Arthur on the subway, and later, Frank Sinatra's rendition plays over Joker's end credits. The song itself doesn't have anything to do with clowns despite mentioning them repeatedly in the lyrics, and is more about regret, and specifically, the regret felt over the end of a relationship. Still, it's a sorrowful song that works well to accompany Arthur's despair. Other songs that get directly referenced in the film are, "If You're Happy And You Know It", with Arthur singing along at a children's hospital; Fred Astaire's performance of "Slap That Bass" from Shall We Dance, seen on the television in Arthur's apartment; and Jackson C. Frank's "My Name is Carnival", which Arthur hears on the radio, explaining that Carnival is also the name of his clown character from his time with the agency.
Towards the end of the film, once Arthur is fully embracing himself as Joker, the music reflects his transformation with three bold song choices. The first of these is another Sinatra number, "That's Life", and it plays while Arthur is dying his hair that iconic shade of green. Next is the now-standard stadium anthem, "Rock 'N' Roll (Part 2)" by Gary Glitter, heard as Arthur, in his full Joker ensemble, struts and dances down a large staircase on his way to make his late night debut. And finally, "White Room" by Cream is heard in the final act, playing just as Joker hits its climax. All three songs are distinctly different from those heard earlier in the film. They're darker and defiant, perfectly matching the change in Arthur since becoming Joker.
Next: Joker's Ending Explained
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