Review of Joker by a Mental Health Professional [Spoiler Alert]

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I have so much to say about this film and I’m not sure I can adequately convey how much it moved me. It is without a doubt one of the best films I have ever seen. You could just take out all the bits related to “super heroes” and that whole franchise and it would still be an amazing film about a man who battles mental illness. Joker showcases a man’s descent from sanity in an unedited, raw, and beautifully tragic way.

I remember reading some criticisms that the film glorifies violence or links mental illness to violence. This surprised me, even as a mental health professional. Do I condone violence? No. Do I think that a piece of art (like a movie) can make statements about the human condition and portray an example of how mental illness can manifest in an individual? Absolutely. I don’t understand making the leap from showcasing one person’s (fictional) life to saying that ALL people with mental illness are violent. Joker artfully details how violence and chaos can be introduced into a person’s life when they are

a. not treated well/abused

and b. their mental illness is not treated

We see the main character Arthur try his best to go about his day when he is frequently put in impossible situations (e.g., being blamed for being mugged). He lapses into psychotic episodes when he fantasizes about grandiosity. He fabricates the human connection he doesn’t have. In some ways the fantasy world might comfort him, but it also perpetuates his disconnect from reality, likely a survival mechanism he learned when he was younger.

You can feel the tension when he is talking with his therapist who doesn’t seem to truly see or hear him. There are many Arthurs of the world and I think the movie does make a statement about how the social climate rejects different people, but doesn’t make sweeping statements like all mentally ill people are doomed to be violent.

What is certainly interesting is the idea that you might not be able to trust the reality you are presented in the movie. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction, which leaves the viewer a bit disoriented, much like Arthur. I found myself wondering if he ever really went on the talk show, because he had previous delusions about being “special” and being interviewed on it before. I also wondered how the show would play a clip of him without his permission… common delusions/hallucinations involve having relationships with celebrities. I also wondered how he could kill his mom without the nurses being alerted on the monitors.

And then of course you have the complication of him going off of his medication and if he ever really needed it in the first place. One of his seemingly most lucid, articulate, and alive moments is when on the talk show he articulates what is wrong with the world and seeks revenge. However, we don’t ever see him this articulate previously. Is it because he is off his meds that he didn’t need? Has he rehearsed this in his head and it only plays out in his head as what he would like to have happen? Definitely a mind bender.

All of the truth-seeking aside, you can’t deny the absolute pain and misery that Arthur functions within.  You see a man literally walking the edge of insanity and doom, toying with suicide. The message that I hope it gets across to people is that you know nothing about other’s personal lives. You may think you know the type of person someone is by seeing how they act on the street or in line at a store, but you have absolutely no idea what they might be battling and how just one snide remark could send them in a downward spiral. You see the daily exhausting effort it takes for Arthur to function and how he tries to communicate with people even when his condition takes over (pseudo bulbar affect) by using his informational card. And when the gruesome murder scenes arise, even though they were so intensely uncomfortable and real, the viewer comes to understand the rage behind them to an extent. When there is no justice for the Arthurs and the world turns a blind eye.

I think it goes without saying I give this movie 5/5 stars. It’s just simply a work of art. Even the physicality of Arthur’s character, how he contorts his body in weird ways and his muscles/bones protrude in a seemingly unnatural fashion… the viewer just gets the visceral sense that he is crawling out of his skin… or that some part of him is trying to.

I don’t typically tear up in movies, but I did in this one. Seeing how taxing his life is and how much effort it takes for Arthur to do “normal” things to survive hit home for me and reminded me so much of when my anxiety/panic was out of control. One seemingly insignificant thing could send me into a panic and I would remain in my room for the rest of the day. I related to Arthurs “living on the edge” dynamic. When I was in undergrad and was afraid to be around people I would go to the cafeteria right when it opened or right when it closed to eat to minimize interaction. I recall a few times where someone just made some type of snide remark to me or laughed at me and I went right back to my room without eating that day. You really don’t know how much your rudeness can affect people and I think that’s part of the reason I was so deeply touched by this film. I’m positive there is so much more that I am forgetting to mention. I’ll likely see the movie again, but I just wanted to get some of my preliminary thoughts out about it finally because I’ve been thinking about this movie since I saw it some weeks ago.

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