Director Todd Phillips dove into the meaning behind the pivotal bathroom scene in “Joker” during the Variety Screening Series presented by Vudu. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, failed stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck slowly transforms into the murderous villain in Phillips’ movie, which picked up 11 Oscar nods, the most of any film this year.
“One of the things we talked a lot about was this sort of Jungian idea that we all walk around with masks on, and Arthur is actually his mask. He chips away at the mask throughout the movie, revealing his true identity, his shadow persona, which is Joker, the person he was meant to be. The bathroom dance is one of the first chipping away at the mask, where we feel Joker emerging,” Phillips said.
The director also touched on the themes of empathy, mental illness and trauma in the film.
“We set out to make a film that illustrates the lack of empathy in the world and the idea is that when we treat each other with this kind of discourse and this kind of dismissiveness, you get the villain you deserve. Couple that with mental illness, childhood trauma, a lack of love, this is the recipe for someone like Arthur in this movie,” Phillips said. “The goal was to make a villain origin story and look at where could Joker come from if we run it through a very realistic lens. I’ve spoken to many 21-year-olds who think it’s a great villain origin story for Joker and I’ve spoken to other people who realize the movie is about the power of kindness, and that’s something we wanted you to feel.”