You dedicate time to reach your dream and you do your best to sustain yourself with a job, only to get fired and have people make fun of you and your dreams. You just wanted to feel loved and accepted, but people look down on you and even beat you up for just loving what you do. You are also struggling with mental health illness, and because of it, you struggle living in the society you are in. You just want somebody to listen to you, but they don’t seem too keen to help. To top it off, your medication will also be cut off. You are marginalized, poor and ignored.
This is precisely what happened to Arthur Fleck – most commonly known as the Joker – a fictional and classic antagonist to Batman, who was played by the well-known actor Joaquin Phoenix.
Although the Joker’s life is filled with turmoil and conflict, this still does not justify his horrendous actions such as murder and causing chaos upon Gotham, a fictional city in the world of DC comics. The movie is debated by psychiatrists and mental health experts on how the film connected mental health issues to violence.
But with all the hype for the famous and controversial DC villain anti-hero, there are still numerous great points that you can take from the movie, one of which is how it brings awareness to mental health illnesses.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), mental illness refers to disorders that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. It can also be linked with impairment of functioning.
All throughout history, society has struggled with having an open and comfortable conversation about this, and it’s about time platforms that will be widely consumed by the audience is set to tackle mental health issue: a classic villain that will appeal to the more traditional generation, and a comic movie that will appeal to both older and younger group of moviegoers.
The movie was released on Oct. 4, which is timely for national Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 6 to 12.
With the movie’s plot focusing on someone who struggles with mental health issues and how he deals with it in his daily life. It tells the audience of the less-known mental illness called pseudobulbar affect, a neurological condition that causes spontaneous laughter, which Fleck, or the Joker, has.
This makes the viewers think about mental health illnesses that are less-known compared to other mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety and the likes.
I any given year, one-in-five Canadians suffer from a mental illness or addiction problem, according to CAMH. It is also the leading cause of disability in Canada.
Those who are suffering from mental illness, they may identify some of their difficulties to some parts of the film, such as when Fleck wrote an entry to his diary saying, “The worst part of having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
What Fleck wrote in the movie is a reality in today’s society. Let’s give a point-by-point explanation why.
First, according to Bell statistics taken in 2015, about 64 per cent of Ontario workers would be concerned about the impacts on the job if one of their colleagues is mentally ill. This shows that there is still stigma surrounding the conversation of mental health.
Second, the Joker suffered bullying and isolation from his co-workers, his fellow clowns. In reality, people who suffer mental illness can face ridicule from those who are not so open-minded when it comes to having a conversation about the issue. But let’s say people are open-minded and accepting of those who have mental illness, those who are ill may still have an inner battle in their thoughts on whether the people that they are with really do accept them.
Third, there is something notable in Fleck’s workplace: Gary.
His co-worker and fellow clown whose life was spared by Fleck. Fleck mentioned that Gary was his only co-worker who was nice to him. Maybe Gary could tell that Fleck is suffering, and Gary, being a person with a less-than-average height, knows how it feels like to be isolated and made fun of just for being themselves.
This just shows tells that if you are average, or what you believe is normal, then you should realize how much of a privilege you have of having a life that some dream about. However, this still is not an excuse to shame and embarrass those who are not like you. There are those who may look and function differently, yet we should not forget that they are still people and they have feelings too.
And fourth, Fleck probably knew that he wasn’t well, hence the visits to the social worker. But after a few more visits, the social worker told him that the government cut the funding for social services, further saying that they don’t care about the social workers and those who are in need of help.
CAMH also says that wait times of six months to one year for counselling and therapy are common in Ontario, and “only about half of Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode receive ‘potentially adequate care.’”
Many versions and backgrounds of the Joker has been approached before: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, Jack Nicholson in Batman and the list goes on. But we believe that especially in the time that we live in, Joaquin Phoenix’s depiction of Joker is a positive step for discussion of mental health.
This movie made some groups of people, particularly the older generation, uncomfortable not only because of the gore, but because of Fleck’s actions prior to committing to acts of terrorism.
The Joker has the potential to level up the conversation on mental health, with 4,374 theatres showing, and has a total gross of about $280 million in just three weeks.
We have come a long way on having a conversation in mental health.
Mental illness is also a disability. Those who suffer from mental illness can’t just simply “get over it.” This should be taken seriously just as how much we talk about physical disabilities. They need adequate help, understanding and even more services to be able to go through their daily lives more normally, just like anybody else. Political leaders should also talk about it more to help in rising the conversation on mental health.
Having a mental illness is not something to laugh about; it is not funny. In the end, we are all still human beings.
And just like what the Joker said in the 2019 film, “There is no punchline.”