Joker: Dancing Otherness, Perspectives from the Global South
The throbbing rhythm of "Rock and Roll Part 2" by Gary Glitter begins in the background, guiding the gritty imagery, inviting the viewer to "see" more than just a murder scene. A close-up of the shoulder of a character walking into a blurred hallway; we have still not seen the Joker yet. It is followed by an upper body wide shot of the Joker entering the elevator, turning towards the camera (but not quite looking at it). The camera slowly moves in to a close-up of his face, directing the viewers to finally "see" the Joker and his facial make-up, which becomes more visible when he twitches his left eyebrow, followed by wicked grin. An elevator door shuts, opening into a white light, dimmed over time, sharing with the viewer a long panning shot of stairs, "inviting" us, yet again, to "see" the expanse of the location: tall buildings on both sides of the stairs, diverging towards the camera. The monochrome-like tint of the background purposefully directs the viewers to "physically experience the kinaesthetic qualities"1 of a strategically structured scene: a preamble to the playful dancing of the "colourful" Joker on the stairs.
Why does the Joker dance? As two dancers from two different parts of the world – New Delhi and Guatemala City – we started a dialogue, not about the dance itself but about the meaning of dance in the film, which is not only a tool in the movie but an immanent characteristic of the Joker as a character. For this exchange of ideas expressed through a social media platform (without a proper start or ending), the internet became our "site"2 for an intersubjective appreciation of the film to emerge through translocal dialogue.
Sumedha: I watched Joker in an IMAX theatre in New Delhi. Had to pay Rs 400 for the ticket, plus popcorn Rs 800. Going to the cinema in India means standing for one minute, staring at the Indian flag while singing the National Anthem with a hall full of people who are singing and also checking their phones.
Beatriz: Really? In Guatemala there is no national anthem before the film starts but many advertisements and film trailers. Most of the trailers are from American films, as there are not many alternatives. Joker is an exception in the sense that it makes me wonder about the accepted order of things, which would lead me to question the hegemony of American films in other countries, especially in Global South countries.
Sumedha: I find it compelling to ask, what does the experience of watching this movie feel like in different parts of the Global South? To some degree, all films are global, but also appreciated in a local context. It also raises questions about access to watching movies: some get to watch Joker and some don't. Similar to the way the movie reflects a dystopian society of clowns battling against the cruelty of the rich who watch Charlie Chaplin's films.
Beatriz: Yes, it is frightening that watching the film becomes a paradox in itself. It reminds me of the understanding of inequality as a paradox: how inequalities are justified in the name of social stability.3 Even if many films address social paradoxes in one way or another, I think there is a reason why Joker stands out, as a film and as a character. I find, as a first layer of the film's composition, the colours of the city's grayscale versus the Joker's bright outfit. The film depicts whatever we think a dystopian "social order" is, starting from the contrast between darkness and brightness.
Sumedha: I agree, but I think there are more layers that emerge through the paradoxes. I believe there is something in the movement of the character. It is not only a representation of mental illness, as dance is a fundamental social feature of human beings, as the late dance anthropologist Andreé Grau has claimed.4 I would suggest that dance in this film is a kind of rebel expression, which is repressed in the name of social stability – to use Mohanty's vocabulary. You know, as the laugh is considered a condition in the film, I would ask if the desire to dance could be considered a "condition" too?
Beatriz: I believe the film suggests such an interpretation of the dance as another feature of mental oddness that requires treatment. The way he behaves is what transforms him into the other, the one who is not like the people who follow the logics of social stability. This thread of thought makes me wonder how dance is significant revealing an identity that does not match with the "convention." How do you think we can address the importance of dancing in the film? As there are plenty of moments in which the Joker dances, do you think there is one to be considered more important than the others?
Sumedha: I don't know if there is one single moment that is more important than the others, but definitely what thrilled me was the moment close to the end when he dances in the stairs all dressed as the Joker. I think this is an interesting moment, when he is about to emerge as a new being, and the stairs become a kind of threshold after which nothing will be the same.
Beatriz: Yes, the stairs are a suitable metaphor for many meanings. Thinking through these meanings, I would also suggest that the film has, with a lot of precision, delimited the places in which the actions take place: the Joker's home, the elevator, the stairs, the metro station. Even more, I argue that the stairs are introduced to the audience just to prepare for the moment in which he will dance as a statement of his transformation and rebellion. So, for me, the dance in the stairs can be considered as a "dance piece" because it has a precise location, specific music and movement, and also presents the new version of the Joker, the final stage of his transformation.
Sumedha: It is a nice conceptual delimitation and I think it can be matched with the technical description of the framing of the camera. As mentioned in the introduction, the preamble of the scene in the stairs displays a converging frame which is followed by a transition to the elevator, with the camera diverging towards the viewer and the joker dancing at the point of divergence. That's why I insist on the idea of a threshold.
Beatriz: I am amazed by how speaking of the Joker from our own places has led us to talk about the places in the film. To add to the idea of threshold, I would suggest that the Joker transforms himself by dancing. Dancing becomes a medium of stretching the movement and embodied possibilities in an unequal regime. I could say that the deployment of movement works as a statement of the other who stands up as a serious clown and proceeds to contest the deepest moral beliefs of a society.