What does the Joker have to say about mental illness?


Photo courtesy of Cinemark

The movie poster for the controversial movie The Joker was released Oct. 4, 2019.

Since the release of the Joker there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the movie and everything that it stands for. I went with my parents on Saturday to experience the movie for myself.

The new Joker movie portrays Arthur Fleck, the future Joker, and his attempt to connect with society in Gotham City. He lives two lives. The one where he paints his face as a clown for his day job and the disguise he projects in an attempt to feel included in the world around him. Fleck is isolated, bullied and disregarded by society because of his mental illness. His illness forces him into uncontrollable laughter in moments that he cannot properly respond or show his emotions.

Throughout the movie, Fleck is judged and beaten because of his mental illness and how others perceive it. After an incident where his is beaten to near death, one of his coworkers lends him a gun so that he can protect himself. He ends up losing his job because of an incident involving the gun and things spiral into a deep darkness from there.

Fleck later finds out that his mother is not his biological mother. During his childhood, she let her boyfriend abuse both of them. A lot of the reason that Fleck has such complications with his mental health is because of that abuse. He begins to transform into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker and murders anyone that he feels has done him wrong. As the movie spirals to a dark end, the city of Gotham rises up in riots supported by Fleck.

Some people see the Joker simply as another weird, unnecessary DC film, while others believe that it addresses mental illness in a way that other movies haven’t. In my opinion, the Joker takes a hard look at the realities of mental illness and brings them to the extreme. Those that struggle with mental illness often do feel isolated and mistreated.

A Tarleton Graduate student who asked to remain anonymous, described her mental illness by saying, “For me having anxiety and depression is like trying to explain color to a blind person. I so badly want someone to understand the way I see things and get what I think but I can never be sure that they do. It’s like trying to catch your breath after you’ve been under water too long. It is an entirely infuriating and helpless feeling.”

The Joker absolutely captured that feeling even if it is to the extreme. I have seen the Facebook posts, many by those who haven’t seen the movie. If a person’s only opinion is that the Joker is just a weird movie, they definitely missed the mark. It stands for so much more than that.

The darkness that fills the movie, is representative of the darkness that can envelop someone’s life with mental illness. That infuriating and helpless feeling is portrayed better in this movie, than any movie I have ever seen.

When someone has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, it can be difficult to interact with society in a normal way. Getting out of bed, eating, bathing and being social can be extremely difficult activities. When you add in responsibilities such as school, work and a family, life can become too overwhelming to process at all. The Joker says all of these things but it also forces the audience to consider these things to the extreme – and the extreme is where some people live.

A person can be struggling with mental illness on the inside, with no outward proof. They take that burden completely on their own. I would say that this is true for most people who struggle with mental illness. However, some people also struggle outwardly much like the Joker. If this is the case, it adds an extra level of darkness to one’s life. When mental illness is outwardly portrayed, a person is left especially open to scrutiny, just like Arthur Fleck in the Joker.

Another student who also asked to remain anonymous said, “Having mental illness is like having this target on your back at all times, except instead of others attacking you, it’s your brain. And you are never safe.”

The Joker is telling the world exactly what it is like to struggle with mental illness, even if it is to the extreme. Mental illness makes its victims feel terrified and unsafe. If Fleck felt that before the added outward portrayal, the audience can only imagine how he feels after.

While it takes a lot of pushing to drive someone to murder, it isn’t difficult to see how hard someone’s life would be if they struggled with the problems that Fleck dealt with.

On the other hand, some people argue that The Joker leaves an open avenue for those on the edge to believe that committing murder is the right answer. However, I think it is pretty obvious that this is not what is portrayed in the movie. When I left the theater, I felt the need to protect those with mental illnesses and better understand what they are going through. That is exactly what we should take away from the movie.

Mental Illness is something that a lot of people go through and whether they are struggling inwardly or outwardly, our goal as a society should be to treat everyone with kindness. If you see someone struggling, offer them assistance. Just because someone is different than you don’t make them wrong or weird. Sometimes people, like Arthur Fleck, just need a helping hand. If Fleck has received help, instead of scrutiny, things may have turned out differently for him, even if it is fiction.

If you are struggling with your mental health and need help, contact the Student Counseling Services at 254-967-9044 for resources.