Silhouetted in the wash of green stage lights, the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra sit under the sprawling Joker title screen. The two dozen bows of the string section rise in unison, each sounding a soft and sustained wail as they merge into a harmonious A note.
The note envelops the auditorium at the Dubai Opera. The garbled conversations of the full auditorium fall quiet. Waiting for the conductor to take the stage, it is hard not to feel the influence of past viewings of the 2019 Todd Phillips film. The silence of the auditorium, under the spell of tuning violins, suggests I’m not the only one feeling this way.
No matter how many times you’ve seen Joker, Joker Live in Concert offers a novel viewing experience. Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance remains as powerful as ever, but here it is the film’s score that takes the foreground.
Scroll through the gallery above for images from Joker Live in Concert.
Icelandic composer and cellist Hildur Gudnadottir became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score for a dramatic composition for her work on Joker, as well as the first Icelander to win the coveted gold trophy. But many parts of the original composition, the orchestra’s conductor points out before the show, had been abridged for the final film.
The screening at the Dubai Opera does away with the cropped version, instead presenting the score in its full breadth and in live orchestral glory.
From the beginning, the score’s restrained and drawn-out melodies possess the auditorium with the visceral darkness Joker is known for. As the film progresses, you’ll come to notice how much of Phoenix’s performance was animated based on Gudnadottir’s haunting cello.
The dance scene in the bathroom is particularly joyous to watch with a live orchestra. Every movement of protagonist Arthur Fleck’s emaciated body is perfectly coordinated with the poignant and climactic score. By the time Fleck exits the bathroom, his transformation into the Joker persona reverberates in the auditorium with the suffering of the cello’s pendulous melody.
The music grows appropriately intense as the plot and Fleck's state of mind unfurl. Thanks to the acoustics of the venue, its hypnotic quality never falters. The live instrumentation makes the sadness behind the Joker's laugh all the more potent, and will make you feel unsettled and lost in yourself – like you're seeing the film anew and with earmuffs removed.
Dubai Opera’s last Joker Live in Concert show is on Wednesday evening. However, it will be touring the UK later this year, premiering at the Eventim Apollo in London on Sunday, September 26.