Last Friday I saw The Joker and I have to say it blew me away 100%. Everything about this movie screams truth and brilliance in a way few films manage to do (for me anyway).

Walking in, I wasn’t quite sure what I expected. Seeing photos of Joaquin Phoenix in his Joker makeup didn’t make me feel any excitement about the film. Then I saw the trailer and I was stunned. It looked not at all like what we normally see from the film universe at DC. It looks like a movie more about a man’s decline into his mental illness, rather than a story about a fictional superhero-ish character.

I like a little reality with my fantasy I suppose.

I have always found the character of the Joker to be fascinating, as so many others have. To me he is like many of the characters in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Flawed, and almost human, but doing superhuman, insane, outrageous things. I resonated with the Comedian in Watchmen for the same reasons I resonate with the Joker. They seem like real people doing unreal (and unpleasant) things. I can’t like, as much as I adore the Marvel Universe, I enjoy my character with some realism, some flaws.

What we get with The Joker is a deep dive into real life for so many people dealing with severe mental illness. I think the reason why this movie upsets, why it makes people uncomfortable is that it deals with a “system” that doesn’t care about people, that lets serious mentally ill people fall through the cracks, and then, what’s a potential result of this?

Catastrophe. Destruction. Death.

Does it sound dramatic? It should. We see the effects of what happens when we ignore mental illness every single day. Mass shootings, suicides, violence, et cetera. Not all of these incidents are attributed to mental illness, but let’s face it, many of them are.

Photo Credit: LUCKYSTEP48 / ALAMY STOCK VECTOR

The Joker makes you see what happens when a man who needs help, and who, at the beginning of the film, is actively trying to help himself. Sort of. But as we watch, event after event transpires to derail him mentally, and the more people ignore his illness and allow him to slip slowly through the cracks, the more insane he becomes. The more detached from reality he is. 

Then there is nothing less but death and destruction in his wake. 

This movie makes people uncomfortable because this country seemingly wants to ignore the mentally ill. It wants to turn away from them because they, what? Shame us? Make us feel guilty? Make us feel sad?

I’ll tell you something dear readers, I am mentally ill. YOU are mentally ill. WE ALL are mentally ill. So to ignore one person who shows it off more prominently than another, is to ignore yourself.

I have suffered on and off with depression my whole life. Sometimes it’s been severe, to the point of wanting to die. Other times I just sleep, a lot, but I have always been able to function. Many cannot.

I also have anxiety. That is a constant bee buzzing in my stomach and in my head that makes me obsess about this, that, or the othr thing. Sometimes it’s about important stuff (like when my husband had a back injury and I worried about his health), but often it’s about unimportant stuff (like if my wedding dress would fit the day of my wedding).

Anxiety and depression often don’t wear a shirt and proclaim themselves to the world.

Mental illness is insidious. It sneaks up on you, it hides within you and manifests whenever and however it wants to. Sometimes severely, sometimes more mildly. I can function with my anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep me up at night, that it doesn’t make me feel sick. That’s why I go to therapy and for really bad days I have medicine that helps take the worst of it away.

All of this is to say that mental illness isn’t always something you can see so clearly, as you can in The Joker. It’s dangerous, it’s subtle, BUT it can be helped, cured, however you want to say it. People can be helped, if only we had a system that allows for people to be helped and cared for.

Photo Credit: From the Counseling Center at NC State University.

The Joker is fiction, but the story it tells is reality for many people. Let’s not get lost in talking about it being too violent (it’s not – you want some of the “ultraviolence” watch any of the John Wick movies), but instead let’s take the opportunity to take a fictional movie and really discuss mental health in the United States, and how we can help our most vulnerable people. How we can make them feel less ashamed about the illness they didn’t cause, and how we can help them be happy. 

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2 Comments

  1. An important essay, JL. Not a fan of super hero movies, I assumed that “The Joker” was just another in a long line of them.
    Strong words. And necessary.
    Thank you for your candor.

    Like

    1. I think that’s what many people will think, it’s just a superhero or a comic book movie, but it has far more far-reaching impacts than those two areas of art. It really is a commentary on our time, and an important one too. Thanks for reading Connie!

      Like

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