A Cinematic Classic: Joker provides commentary on societal approach to mental illness

BY ALONSO J. RODRIGUEZ

The new movie Joker has been an absolute worldwide audience success. The feature film directed by Todd Phillips which stars a stellar Joaquin Phoenix has been considered a masterpiece that will have many expectations in the great film awards.

But what’s so special about this movie? There are many aspects that make this film a special and distinct work, such as the appearance of a villain without his typical antagonist (Batman), we also see the life and origin of the person hiding behind the character and witness his complete metamorphosis — starting with being Arthur Fleck and ending up being Joker. In addition, those who are lovers of cinematography can enjoy some tributes to director Martin Scorsese for using movie references such as Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy.

The essential comparison that you could see in Taxi Driver is the revelation of an “alienated” man against a society that pushes him to discrimination and ends up taking justice by his hand. In The King Of Comedy, we can see a clear tribute to a similarity between the films. Roberts De Niro interprets a bad comedian who wants to have his own show. He tries to look for some help from one of the best showmen in the country but he refuses, so Rupert Pupkin decides to kidnap him. 

For many critics, this film was a real challenge for the director for two reasons: Todd Phillips until today had only directed comedy movies, and it was very difficult to make a film of an anti-hero without the hero in question.

Despite the difficulties, after this film, we could say that, around the Joker, the triumph of a genre that began with Christopher Nolan and continued with Phillips has emerged. The character of the Joker has gone from being a villain who generated hatred among the public, to a charismatic, powerful, and iconic character. 

Analyzing Joker more deeply, we can see that he is a character who is distancing himself from society, because society mistreats him: people avoid him and judge him by his rare way of being, stop receiving government help to treat his mental illness. His life is not successful and he lives with a deep frustration that will generate a rejected reaction against all those who believe guilty of his failed life.

This character is not the Joker we see in other movies, who wants to create chaos for his ideology (anarchist), this Joker is Arthur Fleck without medicating and full of a grudge he wants to vent. Behind him, a great anarchist movement is generated, but that clearly he did not want or had planned to create, it simply arises, and he wants to lead it by his insatiable ambition to be the center of attention.

This movie; in addition to having a great soundtrack, a very remarkable director of photography, and hilarious black humor scenes, it is a social criticism against the social exclusion suffered by people with mental illnesses and how this attitude towards them can affect them with unpredictable consequences. And above all, because sometimes there is no worse abuse than indifference. It’s amazing how this message in the movie makes the viewer feel empathy and sorrow for a serial killer.

Faced with the misunderstanding of how society works, and how nonsense seizes it, Arthur Fleck cites: “I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it is a comedy”. For Arthur, life begins to be a comedy because he becomes the Joker and none of his “jokes” will have serious consequences, like in humor movies. Society cannot expect normal behavior from people suffering from mental illnesses, and because of those social laws that instead of adapting them to people, people adapt to them, is why the Joker, like many other people who suffer from these problems feel out of place and misunderstood. That’s why he also quotes: “It is getting crazy out there” when he supposed to be the crazy one. Because of this juxtaposition, the viewer doubts “who is right here” in the film. 

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