Textual Analysis The movie “The Joker”

Introduction:
As I said in class, there’s no way to organize a course thematically around the topics of “crime and murder” without discussing
Gotham’s most notorious murderer. Since the debut issue of the comic book Batman in 1940, the Joker has been haunting the mean
streets of Gotham City, inhabiting the dual roles of crime boss and arch nemesis to one of the most popular caped crusaders DC
Comics has ever produced. There have been multiple interpretations of the character over the years across a variety of different
mediums. In fact, two actors have now won Oscars for two very different portrayals of this towering figure of graphic literature. The
most recent depiction of Gotham’s most infamous villain is that of Tod Phillips’ Joker, a movie which has completely reinvented the
character: divorcing the Joker’s origin story from that of traditional canon. It is, of course, this reinterpretation of a literary figure who
possesses such a long history that has everybody talking; and in this assignment, you will be asked to engage in the discourse
surrounding Phillips’ Joker as you develop your own analysis of the film. Essentially, you are now “officially,” by the powers vested
in me by the English department at New Jersey City University, being invited into the conversation. Welcome.
Directions:
For this assignment, you are being asked to synthesize at least two secondary sources in the development of a thesis-driven
essay that performs a “close reading” (i.e. textual analysis) of the movie Joker by Todd Phillips.
While you should ultimately put forth your own interpretation of some aspect of the movie (e.g. character(s), music, imaging,
setting, etc.), you will also need to locate and to engage the ideas of at least two different authors who have also written about
the film. This will require you to read around a bit to get a sense of the conversation happening around the movie before
settling into a specific topic.
That said, here are a few directions that might help to guide your preliminary research:
1. Check out what people are saying about the role music plays in the film. We have already begun a discussion of Sinatra’s
“That’s Life” in class, but there is definitely a lot more going on with music in general in the movie. So, what are people
writing about?
2. How is Phillips and Phoenix’s portrayal of the character different from earlier renditions? How is this reinterpretation of the
character being read by others? Might this reimagining of the character have altered what he traditionally stood for and/or
symbolically represented? Is the audience meant to engage Phillips/Phoenix’s Joker differently than Jokers of the past? If so,
how?

3. What have others had to say about the representation of race in the movie? While the film is centered around the trope of the
“lone white male,” black characters do inhabit the city of Gotham, right? How are they being portrayed in the film? How do
these characters, who occupy marginal (perhaps marginalized) roles, contrast with the film’s lead?
4. How might the portrayal of Arthur Fleck’s mother in the movie be read in the context of the #MeToo and Time’s Up
movements? Have any reviewers offered feminist analyses of the film? Has anyone attempted to answer the question of who
to believe: Thomas Wayne or Penny Fleck? Who do you believe?
5. What has anyone written about the class contradictions represented in the film? How might issues of social class have
informed this version of the eponymous character’s tale in ways that have not been seen in other versions? Has anyone yet
read Arthur Fleck’s transition from marginalized outcast to leader of a largely class-based social movement as a work of
literary naturalism?
Note: Remember that the above are just examples of directions that you might take in your research regarding the film.
Ultimately, you are going to have to decide what has most interest to you as you are reading what others have had to say about
the movie, as well as figure out which aspects of the film you want to turn your attention to in the written analysis you are
going to present.

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