Don’t underestimate “Joker.” While the film became a font of controversy as soon as it broke out at the Venice Film Festival back in late summer, no matter. Audiences and awards voters are eating up this sordid DC origin story, starring Joaquin Phoenix at his most deranged. In this Warner Bros. behind-the-scenes video below, and exclusive to IndieWire, the film’s star (who plays the mentally unwell criminal-in-the-making Arthur Fleck) and director/writer Todd Phillips discuss one of the movie’s most iconic scenes: that unsettling bathroom dance.
In the scene, Arthur Fleck dashes into a rancid public bathroom after a harrowing killing spree on the New York City subway. With Arthur emboldened by his sudden taste for violence — and Phoenix by Hildur Guðnadóttir’s nerve-plucking string score — he begins to dance. As depicted by the sinewy, gaunt, physically starved Phoenix, it’s an eerie act of undulation (and was reportedly an improvisation by the actor), and less a dance than some kind of animalistic channeling of psychic forces. Whether that’s Phoenix acting as Arthur, or Phoenix having some kind of fourth-wall-breaking spasm, who knows?
At Sunday night’s Golden Globes, “Joker” is up for four of the year’s top prizes: Best Motion Picture, Drama; Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, for Joaquin Phoenix; Best Director, Motion Picture, for Todd Phillips; and Best Original Score for Hildur Guðnadóttir, whose work sparked Phoenix’s embodiment in the bathroom dance sequence. While the film faces stiff competition from the likes of “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” and “The Two Popes” — all featured in the Best Motion Picture, Drama, category — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is likely to throw its weight behind this gritty, “Taxi Driver”-inspired tale in at least one of the categories.
The film has, at this point, scaled more than $1 billion at the global box office, and climbing, so it’s hard to imagine why the HFPA, and inevitably the Academy, wouldn’t want to honor this cultural talking point of a movie — because whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay.
Below, watch the exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette that takes you into the making of the bathroom dance sequence.