By Laura Garcia
Kapow! The trailer has landed, and it’s everything we hoped it would be and yet nothing we saw coming.
Trailers are an art form, like a good burlesque show, it is the art of the seductive tease – showing just enough to tempt and slightly satiate you, while simultaneously making you hungry for more.
With clown-size shoes to fill, and a rabid fan base biting at the bit for just a glimpse of a smile, this was a trailer with more pressure than most, but wow, these men have delivered! It’s been over 11-years since Heath Ledger’s death and in our first peek of what is to be, Phoenix has shown the world the love and respect he had for his friend in a performance of which Ledger would have been proud.
From our 2.41 minute glimpse into the movie, Phoenix’s portrayal seems to be a warm handshake and a nod between friends. They have brought us what Ledger’s legacy deserves and what fans needed – even if maybe we didn’t know it.
A Tantalising Trio
Phoenix plays a 1970s Martin Scorsese-inspired version of The Joker and this trailer oozes old school charm out of every pore–as does he. Thirteen seconds in and a frown gets turned upside down, giving us that first subtle hint of what we are all here to see, a movie-making magnificently malicious smile. Oh how carefully he has chosen with what, exactly, to tease.
Behind all the madness and some very evil actions, our anti-hero, the Joker, lurks in sadness, a man devastated by his loss and broken by pain. It is the actors’ ability to portray this depth and evoke empathy that makes us love the Joker – and Phoenix delivers in spades.
Given what is, by all accounts, the epitome of an intense character, rich with idiosyncrasies, complex in nature, and all wrapped up in an elaborate clown costume, the Joker provides a complex picture of what it is to be human, bordering on the fine line between tragedy and comedy. He causes us all to look to our inner foibles, to question what, exactly, would send us over the edge – a chilling thought, indeed. Behind a face full of makeup that simultaneously masks and intensifies his demented-self, Phoenix demonstrates his maturity as an actor who masters the art of restraint in this wildly irreverent character as he portrays our much loved Joker.
Martin Scorsese, revered as one of the greatest directors of all time, is known for grit and meticulousness and it is apparent in every second of this trailer layered with a thick Taxi Driver vibe. Martin never does what’s already been done; he brings a fresh, unique perspective to everything he touches, even a story as old and countlessly re-imagined as The Joker.
Director Todd Phillips (the Hangover trilogy), didn’t skip a beat either, bringing us a true portrayal of the original comic. The trailer depicts a slow descent into madness but told in a whisper instead of a scream. We see our anti-hero, Arthur, down-trodden climbing dark stairs. Flashback: he reflects on happier times. We see him bathing and blissfully dancing with his beloved mother. This never-before-seen human layer reveals that the Joker was once a happy and contented man. The scene wraps with the Joker reminiscing his mother’s mantra, “smile, and put on a happy face.”
Cut away to glaring lights in the subway: Alone, broken, and defeated, his laughter is jovial in tone, maniacal in intensity – when there’s no hope left, we assume one can only laugh. There is no doubt that Arthur has reached the event horizon and the Joker has emerged; all while floating on a felicitous song, Smile, by Nat King Cole: “Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking.” Obvious perhaps, but perfect nonetheless.
A Masterful Egg Hunt
If the trailer is any indication, this movie is a lesson in restraint, reminding us that when you have talent, there is no need for flash. The skill is in holding back on the obvious go-to’s and sit back, confidently relying on your abilities. A star-studded cast is peppered in with a sleight of hand. Brett Cullen plays Thomas Wayne and Marc Maron shows up as Ted Marco. Martin brings his good friend Robert De Niro in to play as Murray Franklin, while Penny Fleck is played by Frances Conroy, and Zazie Beetz is Sophie Dumond – his date over doughnuts.
In between it all – and very fittingly for the month of April – are the carefully laid Easter eggs, inciting fans the world over to begin theorising on what may or may not be. Two thumbs lifting the sides of a young Bruce Wayne’s face; the date over doughnuts; and a bouquet of flowers, iconically known to kill, each of these scenes are sure to cause a swarm of conjectures, some perhaps more plausible than others. Could Batman and the Joker really be brothers from another mother?
The Easter eggs give us little gems of information and subtle hints, sending the mind into overdrive. They can be both infuriating and enticing. The fun is in the guessing and painstakingly dissecting every moment of the trailer, providing us with months of debates with friends and strangers.
And so, spring will turn into summer and we’ll spend long sunny days reminiscing about childhoods spent with dog-eared comic books or rewatching Batman movies; of reliving Ledger’s great talent before we move on to relish the rising of Phoenix (pun intended). We’ll wait for the leaves to turn and for fall to finally arrive and to bring with it, The Joker, in all of his dark, disturbing, demented glory.