Variations of the Joker’s Music

Todd Phillips did his best to depict Joker as a character struggling with mental illness, yet the film also shows pathological laughter as an indicator of evilness.

Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of a comic fails to create pleasurable feelings compared to those portrayed by Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger.

Hildur Gudnadottir’s melancholic cello music contributed greatly to helping the movie achieve this effect.


There are a variety of variations on the main joker theme. Composers such as Shirley Walker, Hans Zimmer, and Hildur Gudnadottir have tried to give Joker’s music their own signature sound using different styles and instruments; sometimes subtle changes occur while other times major shifts alter tempo and key shifts occur in order to alter pace of each scene.

Hans Zimmer’s rendition of “Why So Serious?” stands out most, representing perfectly the Joker’s fluctuating character from within the film – moving between calmness and seriousness throughout his persona.

When Arthur dyes his hair green and runs through Arkham, this song plays as one of the most well-known variations on the joker theme.


As is common with animated shows, composers will establish an overarching theme which can be varied and adapted according to each episode’s premise. The Joker theme has seen numerous iterations over its existence with variations being mostly due to instrumentation. Shirley Walker’s classic melody can sound carnival-esque while Paul van Dyk’s remix features flutes, temple blocks and cymbal crashes giving more of a ragtime feel while Hans Zimmer’s version adds accordions and harpsichords giving it mock French romanticism.

Todd Phillips’ new portrayal of Arthur Fleck as The Joker took a unique approach that needed a soundscape unique from any other to capture his mental illness and develop into The Joker.

As such, the soundtrack was composed by various musicians including Danny Elfman (who provided the iconic Batman theme), Hildur Gudnadottir, and Hans Zimmer. Elfman’s work was certainly exceptional but Hans Zimmer’s use of instruments and pacing gave the track such an unnerving feel that perfectly captured Joker’s state of mind.

As evidence of his skill, this became clear during the iconic bathroom scene where Joaquin Phoenix shed his skin for good. The string-led theme perfectly captured despair and madness – making this scene one of the most unforgettable scenes in the film.

Another key element of this theme is how it creates and releases tension throughout. The minimalist nature of most of the piece contrasts with sudden silence or loudness that reflect Joker’s ever-shifting between calmness and fury.

At its heart lies this theme’s most distinctive feature – its crescendo. When the Joker meets up with Gordon to reveal all of the victims whose DNA he had taken from, this track grows increasingly intense, starting with an atmospheric violin motif before expanding to become an intense chord progression as Joker tells Gordon to watch as his world burns down.


Hans Zimmer is one of the finest composers out there and does an incredible job with all his compositions – be they for Interstellar, Inception or The Dark Knight Trilogy. His Joker theme stands out as being both haunting and menacing in its ability to describe its subject – something it does brilliantly!

However, the film does not come without issues. One such issue is the mischaracterization of Arthur Fleck/Joker as an overtly comic supervillain: his portrayal as an amused, laughter-inducing supervillain is not accurate for who he actually is; rather than bursts of incongruous laughter caused by anxiety and panic (known as pseudobulbar affect), this condition may actually be life threatening if left untreated.

As mentioned previously, portrayal of severe mental illness in films may perpetuate unfounded stereotypes and disseminate incorrect information; such as associating mental deterioration with violence is untrue and creates stigmatism and fear towards people with mental illnesses. Regardless of these minor issues, Gudnadottir’s music remains a great accomplishment which should be appreciated for conveying such emotional depth in her film scores.