The Joker is, without a doubt, one of the most significant characters in the comic book world and in Gotham City. In 2019, this character was introduced in a completely different and unique context that made us rethink everything we thought we knew about mental health and the darkness surrounding it.
Joker: Cast and Crew
Todd Phillips directed and wrote Joker (2019) with Scott Silver as a co-writer. The choice of the cast was impressive, with Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in the title role, along with Robert Di nero as Murray Franklin, the TV show host. Zazie Beetz plays Sofie, Fleck’s neighbour and Frances Conroy plays Penny, Fleck’s mother. Phoenix is known for his remarkable roles and the depth within his characters.
For this particular role, Phoenix had to lose a lot of weight, embody the character of a man suffering from a type of mental illness that no one takes seriously, and blow our minds with a perfect yet painful performance. This character is presented to shed light on the consequences of neglecting mental illness and how far pain could take you to make your voice heard.
This is not like any other Joker movie you have ever watched before. Joaquin Phoenix stars in this movie with massive talent and outstanding performance. The plot follows Arthur Fleck, a misfortune comedian who lives with his mother in Gotham City and struggles with mental illnesses and the rejection he receives from society. Fleck also suffers financially, which affects his mental health because he cannot get the therapy or the treatment that he needs. We follow him on his regular visits to the social worker who follows up with his mental illness condition because that is the only thing he can do, as he cannot afford to see a therapist or pay for his medications.
We follow Fleck’s journey as he suffers from a condition that makes him burst into laughter at any time for no reason. This condition puts him in awkward situations with people to the extent that he may be hit or laughed at whenever he gets one of these episodes. Fleck also has a crush on his neighbour, Sofie, and we watch as he gets close to her, and they get into a relationship together. However, we later find out that he was hallucinating and that his neighbour doesn’t even know him.
Fleck’s mental state got worse when everything started to collapse all at once. He lost his regular sessions with the social worker, he uncovered secrets about his father, and his mother was not who he thought she was. When the world puts him in his darkest nightmares, Fleck can’t find a way out, and he becomes a ticking bomb!
The first violent act of Fleck became a revolutionary statement, and Fleck, starting that moment, became the Joker, a hero to some and a villain to many. He killed three young men on a subway after they made fun of him, which is a repetitive behaviour from many individuals towards Fleck. However, this time, he couldn’t control his temper and shot them dead immediately. At that moment, no one saw Fleck’s face, and no one knew who committed the crime.
Later, Fleck’s video as a standup comedian went viral, and he was invited as a guest on his favourite TV show with Murray Franklin. On set, Fleck uncovered his identity as the man behind the shootings and then shot Franklin in the head on a live TV! The horrific murder shocked the world, and many people started praising the Joker, wearing his mask and adopting his approach.
Mental Disorders and How They Are Approached in the Movie
‘The worst part of having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t. Many of us can relate to this was Arthur Fleck’s notebook entry, that many of us can relate to. Just to be clear, Fleck’s violence in the movie is not because of his mental illness; his personality traits are the main reason behind his actions, and the neglect of his mental illness only made things worse. During the whole movie, there was no specific diagnosis for what Arthur Fleck (Joker) suffered from.
However, based on the symptoms he showed, therapists and psychologists could name a number of mental illnesses that he may have suffered from. Fleck, in many scenes, just bursts into laughter for absolutely no reason, and this is known as Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). This condition causes the person to burst into laughter or tears suddenly for no reason, and it is a very disturbing and painful condition for patients. It makes their social lives complicated, and it also causes a sense of discomfort or pain when the episode lasts for a long period of time.
We also find out that Fleck had a traumatic childhood and suffered from emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his mother and her partner. On one occasion, the abuse resulted in brain injury, which later led him to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries, and more. Moreover, Fleck finds out that his mother adopted him when he was a child and that his biological father is a rich man called Thomas Wayne (Batman’s father), making him angrier for living this poor, deprived life and tolerating everything he had to go through while he could have had all the money in the world.
Fleck also shows zero remorse for killing those three men, which tells us that he is a psychopath. He craves attention, which also makes him a narcissist, and he also shows signs of depression and anxiety. He also experiences both sadness and joy simultaneously, so we see him laughing and crying at the same time, which is an indicator of Bipolar Personality Disorder (BPD).
Mental Health and the Government
“They don’t give a shit about people like you … and they don’t give a shit about people like me either”. This was the social worker’s words to Fleck when talking about the government and the public health sector. It is not a secret that mental health is not taken seriously around the world. Social workers do not get paid enough to treat patients, and patients do not get the health care they need. Therefore, the whole mental health institution falls apart on the heads of all parties involved.
What Makes Joker (2019) Different and Great?
This version of the Joker character stands on its own as a completely different portrayal of the villain we know. For decades, all we knew was the crazy man with his painted face who goes out killing anyone for no particular reason other than his own madness. Phillip’s film here shows the long and painful process of creating the Joker and what led this individual to be the man he is today.
The film is a masterpiece in portraying society and its effect on the individual. The film’s greatness also lies in the pain the viewer feels while watching and living inside Fleck’s dark and suffering mind. It is not every day that a director succeeds in making the audience view the world through the eyes of a movie character. Moreover, you cannot help but sympathise with the character, just as we felt while watching Maleficent (2014) with Angelina Jolie in the title role. This new take on some of the most powerful villain characters that are printed in our brains makes us develop a completely new perspective by hearing their side of the story.
Society’s Impact on the Individual
The injustice and cruelty of society, alongside the continuous abuse from his family, which started at a very early age, all came together to create the villain we know as the Joker. The important question here is, does the Joker kill and hurt anyone for no reason, or does he only kill those who deserve to die from his own perspective? For example, the three men on the subway were cruel and were making fun of him, Murray Franklin was also making fun of him, and he represented the society that doesn’t have a clue of what Fleck has been going through for years and the impact it had on him.
For a moment, it seems like the Joker only kills those who don’t understand. He kills those who have never been in his shoes and haven’t even tried to be. He takes his revenge on those who represent capitalism and corruption and those who helped make him the creature he is today. The Joker never wanted to hurt anyone; the child inside of him only wanted to grow old, happy and in peace.
If we think about it for a moment, it doesn’t really take much effort to be nice to people. Just imagine the positive impact you can leave on someone drowning in his darkness. Imagine the difference you can make to someone’s life by just being nice to them. Sometimes, all you need is a kind word to get you through the day. Sometimes, a smile from a stranger or a “hello” from a work colleague is more than enough to make you feel like you belong to this world!