Reading a film’s script is nothing like actually seeing the film in all its cinematic glory. But seeing the dialogue and direction of a movie like Joker all spelled out in black and white on the page does give you a distinct and interesting perspective on what the filmmakers were working with on a fundamental level—and what it was they were trying to achieve with the final product.
With awards season right around the corner, more studios are beginning to share the full screenplays for the films they’re hoping are going to rake in all the glory. Warner Bros. has just shared Joker’s script with Deadline, and even if you’ve already seen the film, it’s fascinating how the story reads without all of its striking cinematography that evokes classic films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy drawing attention away from what characters are actually saying and doing to one another.
Decoupled from deliveries by actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, and Robert De Niro, the dialogue in many of Joker’s scenes falls flat—which is to be somewhat expected, considering that movies like this are presumably written in such a way that allows for the actors to bring an energy that helps fully realise their characters. But more than that, the script often feels as if it wasn’t crafted to tell a nuanced story about how a broken man became Gotham’s most infamous supervillain, but rather a story that uncritically glamorises gun violence and doesn’t really know what it wants to say about mental illness.
Again, the script makes the most sense after you’ve already seen the movie and can match up the scenes on the page with their cinematic counterparts. But once you’ve seen Joker, and then gone back to reexamine how the scenes were initially written out, it becomes that much harder not to see how, ultimately, the movie just wasn’t all that great.