So, this is a personal rant about the movie, Joker. While I know this is just a movie, I challenge the long-term implications to our culture of “normal.” I also question the 14 A rating as we know from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, that copy-cat trends in crimes start with an antecedent example.
Last night, my husband and I went to see Joker. Knowing full-well it would be gritty and dark, I mentally prepared myself… disconnected myself as much as I could throughout the movie from the violence, grit, sorrow, horror, and anger in the movie. I tend to take that stuff on as though it was real, so I have to fashion a protective casing around my emotions before I watch that stuff.
Honestly, I was spellbound by Joaquin Phoenix’s method approach to the character. He totally nailed it… to the point where I questioned where reality and fiction intersected.
I felt chills in the back of my skull as the character pulled the trigger on loved ones, when he exposed the delusions he was living to the audience, and when he scared every last human with whom he connected.
As I left the theatre, I didn’t feel empathy. I felt fear. It made me want to pull my children closer to me. It made me skeptical of strangers. Cortisol was clearly pumping through my body because I felt protective of my family. The concern is that I’m a pretty open-minded person. I bet lots of parents felt this way leaving that theatre. It is precisely why I do the work I do. This sentiment is really bad for us. It creates the US vs THEM narrative that allows humanity to put atrocious nazi-esque policies in place.
Throughout the movie, it was clear that the character was battling a grave mental illness exacerbated by severely traumatic childhood experiences and a distinct lack of connection to human beings. He presented as a psychopath, unable to feel empathy for others in pain and sadistically demonstrating joy in hurting others. Psychopaths make up less than 1% of our population.
We learned that the character was on medication, had been repeatedly admitted to psych wards, had been incarcerated, and had to see social workers routinely.
Honestly, I worry about the way the mass market with conflate all mental illness with sadistic psychopathy. Most people living with visible mental illness are not psychopath killers.
I have met incredible people and children who are afflicted with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, severe depression and anxiety, and delusions. This is out of their control. Many of these folks are tax-payers, parents, business people, creatives, accountant, lawyers, and contribute positively to society with the help of medication.
My major concern is that people will alienate these folks even more than they already do because of fear. Many of these people work hard to overcome the negative stigma of mental illness. There is so much shame already associated with these disorders, I’m not sure that this movie helps dispel the cultural view of mental illness.
We need to wrap our arms tighter around people battling mental illness. We need to remind them of their place in society. We need to continue to fund the social services that support those living in poverty. We need to intervene early with high-risk kids.
We need to move closer not further away.
I don’t think the film should be banned. I just think we need to ensure we have the cultural conversation around the type of illness this portrays.