“Joker” is a film that deals with society’s most sinister issue: the erasure of people with mental illnesses.
The film, directed by Todd Phillips, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime himself known initially by his birth name of Arthur Fleck. Fleck is a party clown and an aspiring stand-up comedian who falls into extreme circumstances. He loses his job as a party clown and gets accused of several crimes before being dropped from his mental health program. This series of events sends Fleck into a downward spiral of crime and villainy.
A popular perception of the film is that it would incite violence during its premiere. This was not the case but there is credence to the reasoning. The character of the Joker has always been one to inspire disadvantaged people to “rise up,” and this movie does no different. However, the act of rising up is portrayed in a slightly different manner than other movies depicting the Joker. In “Suicide Squad,” the Joker is a maniac for the sake of being a maniac. He doesn’t have many clear motives. That is not the case in this movie. Phoenix’s Joker has a clear purpose to the things he does, even if the motives behind those actions seem insane.
Another concern with the film initially was its treatment of people with mental illness. There were fears that “Joker” would attempt to relate mental illness and criminality, but this couldn’t be farther from the case. If anything, it portrays society’s expectations of mentally ill people as insane. During the film, Fleck goes on a soul-searching journey after the clinic he uses for therapy gets shut down. There are multiple instances where Fleck is treated as a total other rather than a person all because he has mental illness. He suffers from a disorder that makes him laugh even if he didn’t think was something funny. He cannot control this habit and even when he informs others of this fact, he is still met with disdain and ridicule. This is a perfect representation of how modern society treats those with mental illness or behavioral disorders. They are met with combat rather than comfort and this practice has to stop if society is to continue.
“Joker” serves as an origin story for the titular character and by extension, it serves as an origin to Batman’s escapades into heroism. Bruce Wayne himself does appear in the film in the form of a child but the film does well what most other derivative films don’t: its treatment of one character is not beholden to the more popular character. Arthur Fleck’s story has virtually nothing to do with Bruce Wayne’s and Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, also makes an appearance, albeit in a slightly villainous role. The film does a great job in propping up the Joker, who is renowned as a villain.
Ultimately, “Joker” sends a message to those that believe mental illness is something to scoff at. The film pulls no punches in this regard, and that’s a good thing. “Joker” receives an A-rating.