Joker (2019), Two Dance Scenes Compared

Joker in Joker dances frequently, at work and at home, but two dance scenes are key. The first one is the bathroom scene, right after Joker kills for the first time, having been taunted too much for too long. Initially this scene was not written as a dance scene. The dancing was improvised by Joaquin Phoenix to the hypnotic music of composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. The second scene is the stairs scene, while Joker is on his way to the tv show, so right before he acts violently, this time premeditated. Here the dance was premeditated too: written, choreographed and prepared. I want to take a closer look at both scenes, their meaning and differences.

The Bathroom Dance,  showing yourself who you are

After the murders in de train Joker runs (clumsily? childlike?) away through a dark part of town, a big plastic laundry bag still in his hand. He finds a public rundown bathroom, closes the door and holds two hands on the door, catching his breath. He feels the weight of his arms against the door (his own presence in the world) and he starts to dance. The camera shows his feet first, he begins to move slowly and expressively. The camera moves up and we see his arms and face. He dances to process and express what happened and what he did. He doesn’t dance for a public, not to be seen, it is uniquely personal and uniquely for that moment in his life. The movements are slow, his arms extend, curve, make shapes, his hands are expressive. He ends the dance in front of the mirror, his arms wide open (for the final bow) and he looks at himself. He presents himself to himself. This is who I am.

(The following scenes show a changed Joker, a determined Joker. He knows who he is. He will from now on be someone who acts in the world, not just someone who gets acted upon.)

Bathroom Dance Joker

The Stairs Dance, showing the world who you are

The Stairs dance happens while Joker is on his way to the studio, so before he is going to execute a murder. He looks forward to what he’s going to do. He dances down the stairs with much gusto. Everybody knows the scenes from old big shows where the famous celebrities walk down from the stairs, descending graciously (and temporarily) to the level of the public. Everybody recognizes his dance moves from old movies or new video clips. The kicking of the legs, the pulling of the elbows. This is not about a unique, personal expression. These moves are part of a social language most of us speak ( sometimes subconsciously) fluently. This is about fame, about status, about making things happen. A choreographed move, (if it is the Can-Can, Gangnam style or the tapping from The Old Soft Shoe) offers a fixed form for anyone to participate in. In a choreography you participate in and are part of the world. You show your choice of presentation.

It’s not strange the stairs scene has become a meme, and the actual stairs have become a tourist hotspot for making insta pictures. We can go there and kick our leg. The form and the location is open for all of us.

Joker is prepared for being on live TV. He dances down the stairs. The camera shows his elated state and wild plans by going a bit wild in movement itself: slowing down in time, flipping the camera position above him, zooming in on his confident smile. He dances freely like he is alone, but the form of the dance shows his mind is about what he is going to do in the world. He acts out his social persona and fantasies. To show the world who he is. To Answer back.

This scene does make a perfect counter to the bathroom scene because this scene ends with him running away. This time not clumsily. He knows where he needs to go.

Stairs Scene Joker

In the end Joker laughs. The friction stays. They will never get it anyway.

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