The Joker is a film based on the infamous DC Comic character and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Author Fleck, a troubled comedian who lives on the fringe.
This deep and troubling story of the Batman villain goes into considerable social commentary about the treatment of the mentally ill. Much of this was spot on.
As his support system disintegrates, so does his mental health
The movie focuses on the Joker’s decent into mental illness as his thready and feeble state-supported mental health treatment ends abruptly. With no medication or support for his illness, his psychosis escalates and the line between reality and fantasy blurs.
The movie does a particularly job of illustrating the struggle and confusion that is the result of being the person in that state of mind and not knowing what is real or isn’t. And we see much of this fantasy through Author’s first-person lens leaving us wondering the same.
I have to note here that most who suffer mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves than others. But this is a movie about a DC comic nemesis, and its exploration into the reasons for the Joker’s later villainous and violent behavior.
As a character exploration, it is an honest look into what could inspire a bizarre, explosive and vindictive personality. The film’s message is that monsters are not born but created by our culture.
ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences
The childhood trauma, repeated bullying and emotional abuse translates into his monstrous and revolutionary outrage. This is the part that feels so sad. We see a vulnerable and ill person–someone who could have been saved had he not been so mistreated.
Author’s signature “dance of defiance,” a fascinating and artistic motif throughout the film, is punctuated with magnificent post scoring (music). The final dance down the stairs in full Joker costume is chilling and signifies the completed metamorphosis to his demonic alter ego.
An early scene of the neighbor who tries to express her frustration with the living conditions and her daughter’s tirelessness by putting her fingers to her temple as an indication she would shoot herself is a gesture we often express without thought. Author’s face and “I give up” posture reflects the irony of what that gesture means to a person who fights feelings of suicide on a daily basis.
No trigger warnings
Hollywood does love to show graphic and morbid detail of suicide attempts and method. However, any film that features a scene of a suicide attempt rehearsal with a gun should have a trigger warning. Sixty percent of all deaths by firearm are suicides and it’s likely to trigger vulnerable individuals. Will filmmakers ever take this step?
There are many messages of social justice in the movie and plenty for any anti-violence advocates, mental health advocates or religious groups to object to. In addition, the movie leaves a lot open to interpretation which does add to its allure. As we move forward and encourage conversation on mental illness, we have less control over that narrative. But I found this movie to be a smart, brilliant and fascinating look into a complex personality.
The editing, story, cinematography and acting are all first rate even if the film is graphically violent, much of which I watched from behind my hands. (I’m a violence wimp.)