Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied, and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as The Joker.
A story told repetitiously to exhaustion. However, it’s no accident this story transcends time. As kids, we were introduced to this story by the time we could spell our names. What is it about The Joker that captivates us, then haunts us? Maybe this time around, it awakens us to the new reality that is mental illness in our society today.
I was really pumped to see Joker. Of course, the late Heath Ledger brilliantly invoked the most twisted of any Joker that came before. What pressure on an actor to attempt to resurrect a character handled so profoundly by Heath. Simply stated, Joaquin Phoenix smashed it in a perfect adaptation of a deranged mentally broken villain, The Joker.
It’s now the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Fisting Deadpool to have to eat #2 as he has been dethroned by Joker 2019.
That’s awesome, but I feel this film needs a little unwrapping. This movie seems to have very little to do with villains and superheroes, as it does studying the desperately misunderstood illness known as mental.
I sat in my seat. It was cheap-Tuesday. A good day to see a film. They’ll gut me on the popcorn anyway. The movie started. I honestly had no expectations. Other than I like the lead actors work on other films, which I’ll list a few at the end of my article, and The Joker? Iconic! The movie had a foreboding darkness from the onset. Phoenix was mesmerizing from the moment he appeared as Arthur on the big screen. The struggle for Arthur was already deep in his core by the time we met him in this story. Family issues, social issues, behavioural issues, mental illness at its worst. As I watched the intensity of Phoenix’s performance, it was clearly disturbing to viewers and yet mesmerizing.
A few people actually left. I can only assume they may have been struggling, as was I, with the subject matter. Mental illness right there and right in your face. The all too familiar insensitivity and humiliation one who suffers from mental illness imposed by people almost every single day. Right there on the big screen. I felt it because although I’m no Joker, thank God, I struggle with mental illness. PTSD, chronic anxiety, and panic attacks, depression on the good days. Does that mean I don’t laugh? Does it mean I can’t fit in a social situation? No, and no. What it does mean is that this is sadly still a health issue that is so underfunded, misunderstood, misrepresented and largely untreated. The stigma is almost a symptom itself. It is literally torturing the inflicted. What other illness, other than sexually transmitted disease, does one get pelted with shame, judgement, isolation and punishment from those around you? Can you imagine a cancer patient or survivor being ostracized socially like those who suffer and survive mental illness? This is an illness that doesn’t seem to have any hope for a cure.
This is where my mind was as I watched this character suffer alone, as I feel most people with mental illness do. I had enough, and I left the movie at about the halfway point. It was raw for me. I related all too well to this character. As a child, it was with wide eyes that I was entertained. This was no longer a comic book. It isn’t funny anymore. The Joker wasn’t making us laugh, as he did in the television series. It is making audiences squirm in their ultra-comfortable, cinematic lounges; eating it up like a python swallows its prey. It felt pornographic, oozing with all the wickedly beautiful stereotypes that people living with mental illness face. I left, and I was disturbed.
I texted a friend. I told him my reaction to the movie and that I had left. I usually leave a movie because it sucks, but that’s not why I left this time. I left because the affliction Arthur was imprisoned by is no longer a punchline and is the world in which we now live. It was too much to digest. After a short confab about me not like liking the movie (which wasn’t true), I let my buddy go, while the subject matter continued twisting around in my brain. How could I relate so well to such a diabolical character? I needed to understand why. I went back to the theatre and purchased another ticket for the next showing. I was going to watch this movie with a whole new set of eyes. There’s a reason why it has become the biggest R-Rated movie of all time. Aside from the incredible performance of Joaquin Phoenix and all the cast, maybe more then ever, people are hungry for more accurate portraits of this kind of illness. It’s no longer funny to be a sufferer of mental illness. The Joker was our childhood dark hero. When did it all get so real? I got through the movie the second time, and I loved every horrific minute of it. All the while wondering, does The Joker ever get to heal? Will he be stuck in this loop forever? For those of us suffering from mental illness, that’s what it feels like every day, and that’s before we even roll out of bed. I booked a session with my therapist. If you have mental illness, reach out to a friend or family member. You may feel alone, but you are not. We are many. We matter! You matter! And that is NO JOKE.
by Bruce Christopher
Editor & Publisist
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