The DC movie universe isn’t exactly one that has been showered in glory over the past decade or so, with the likes of Batman vs Superman, Justice League and Aquaman showing the world just how far behind they are behind their Marvel rivals. Though, with their iconic roster of characters, this hasn’t always been the case for DC, with Batman featuring in some of the finest superhero movies of all time including Batman Returns, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
With a dark, gothic take on the superhero world, such films have helped to elevate the DC film universe, proving that it is indeed capable of success if such visionary minds like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan are put behind the camera. The same can be said for more modern superhero films too, where Patty Jenkins helped to redefine Wonder Woman and Todd Phillips took the villainous Joker to new heights with a dark reimagining starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Earning an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the titular villain, Joaquin Phoenix took the role of Batman’s arch-nemesis and made it entirely his own, displaying a terrifying performance in the process. Following the demise of the mentally ill Arthur Fleck as he descended into the identity of the Joker, writer and director Todd Phillips frequently tinkered with the script to make sure Phoenix’s character was just right.
Talking to Indiewire, cinematographer for Joker, Lawrence Sher, spoke to the publication about Phoenix’s performance on the set of the film, noting how he improvised many of the film’s key scenes. As Sher explains, “While some scenes were very planned out, like when he’s in the phone booth or walking up the stairs, others had no plan at all. When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that”.
A key scene in the film, the moment when Phoenix’s Fleck disassembles the innards of his fridge and climbs inside is one of the many incredible moments that handed the lead actor his much deserved Academy Award. The other scene, and perhaps the most mesmerising moment in the whole film itself, occurs once the Joker has claimed his first victims, as he walks into a public toilet and enacts an ethereal dance.
As Lawrence Sher recalls, “Joaquin created that whole dance and, after the success of that scene, we started creating more moments like that”. Continuing, the cinematographer adds, “Like when he’s playing with the gun and fires it into the wall. All we knew was that he’d fire the gun into the wall at some point, but we never planned when or knew that he’d stand and have that conversation with himself and begin dancing. We just had two cameras in there and let it happen”.
Joker has since been recognised as a major turning point for the DC film universe, attracting great critical and commercial plaudits for its daring attitude and audacious storytelling.