One element of Todd Phillips’ Joker movie that has been celebrated, but still is underrated, is the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. It’s menacing and moody, but also sparse, by design. It’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable as Arthur Fleck figures out his place in a difficult, disturbing society. But the composer just revealed an incredible technique that she performed in the composition to imply that Joker was slowly overwhelming Arthur, musically.
As part of the onslaught of awards interviews that significant creative people have been doing in the trades, Hildur Guðnadóttir opened up to Deadline about the work that she did for Todd Phillips. And she explained how the sound of the cello was meant to represent Arthur Fleck in the early going of Joker. Guðnadóttir said:
The story is a journey of one man trying to figure out his past and where he comes from, so I thought it was really important to almost be able to get inside his head. It was really important to [examine] what it must have felt like to be the soul of Arthur Fleck. … To me, it was really important that all of the music for Arthur is direct and completely without flourish—very simple, almost naïve. As you can hear in the score, there’s almost no harmonies. It’s almost like one chain of thought that’s carrying through, this kind of relentless simplicity.
But behind that cello sound, Hildur Guðnadóttir told Deadline that she had the faint sound of a 90-piece orchestra, which she slowly allowed to get louder and louder as the chaos in Arthur’s world came into focus. Essentially, the sound of the orchestra became the stand in for Joker. As she explained it:
As we go further into the story, and he starts to understand more, and his anger starts to come a bit more on the surface—especially towards the end of the film—the orchestra has become so loud that it kind of has eaten the cello, and the Joker has taken over the Arthur Fleck we saw in the beginning.
That transformation is at the heart of Joker. It’s physical, on screen, as Joaquin Phoenix explores Arthur’s physicality, and the face he wears in his makeup. How cool is it that this also is explored and conveyed in the musical arrangement of Joker, as provided by Hildur Guðnadóttir.
The first time I really started noticing the cello sound was in the bathroom dance scene. Listen to that here:
Now I want to go back to Joker, and pay attention to the rising sound of the orchestra as it, as she says, eats Arthur’s soul. Did you pick up on this? Or is this something that has only now been brought to your attention. Basically, I love learning new elements about movies that I’ve grown to love. How about you?