The 2019 smash-hit, Joker is a psychological thriller that shows viewers the type of metamorphosis that nobody likes to acknowledge—the one that is caused by our own behavior. Dark and ominous, the “protagonist” of this story, Arthur Fleck, is shown not like the funny Jack Nicholson, nor the embarrassing Jared Leto, and not the viciously cunning Heath Ledger. No, this joker is naive and almost pathetic in his childlike sadness, and this only makes the viewer feel for him more.
Iceland native Hildur Guðnadóttir was responsible for the movie’s score, and she created something truly unique and extraordinary—something that isn’t often seen in mainstream movies. The sole use of the cello adds an ambiance you wouldn’t expect for this type of movie; the score, unsettling as it may be, has moments of clarity and peace that just add to the development of Arthur Fleck’s psyche.
More than anything, in a movie where our protagonist is also the villain, Guðnadóttir truly captures Fleck’s humanity in the progressing pieces throughout the score. Each song has an element of sadness, and yet the other layers in each song are completely unique- almost like the layer notes of a perfume. Each section of the score fluctuates between hopeful triumph to the return of the same childlike innocence, and watching as Joaquin Phoenix crumbles, viewers can almost hear Arthur crying out, “Why me?”
The star of the score is, “The Bathroom Dance”, marking the pivotal change where Fleck has hit the breaking point. Quiet and forlorn, yet hardened by resignation, we watch as he sits in this grimy bathroom, and dances, an almost sinister thing if it wasn’t so sad. Every note of Guðnadóttir’s cello fills the viewer with such heartbreak for Arthur, yet not without a hint of disdain—the same type everyone else in the film shows him.
Overall, while Joker’s score isn’t a personal favorite, it did its job better than any nominee on the list by a long shot. In a film with violence and grief, the score serves as a thing of humanity and does so with an eloquence that you wouldn’t expect in a movie about a sad, homicidal clown.