Joker: Into the Mind of Mental Health Representation in Film is a honest and real look into the themes of the Todd Phillips directed movie.
It’s February 2021 and I have FINALLY watched Joker! I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty pissed off with myself for not seeing it sooner! I’m also annoyed that this is yet another film I put off watching because of other people’s opinions.
It’s been awhile since a film has genuinely made me feel uncomfortable; for good reasons! If you’ve been living under a rock and you still haven’t seen Joker, I implore you to watch it!
Send in the Clowns
When I first found out that there was going to be a film about Joker, I, like many others, presumed it was going to be about Batman’s arch nemesis The Joker. Everyone I know has wanted an origin story on the crazed killer ‘clown’ to be released and the announcement of Todd Phillips’ film got people excited. Then the trailers started to come out and the feel of the movie was not what I expected; it felt ‘off’ for something that was meant to be a supervillain film.
We soon realised that this wasn’t going to be your standard gritty/comic book style origin story of Batman’s favourite person to hate, no this film was clearly a dark and dirty thriller.
It’s rare for films to really delve into mental health conditions, unless it’s depression, and the fact that Joker focuses on a specific one is, weirdly enough, a breath of fresh air.
Although it is not named specifically, Arthur Fleck has PBA: Pseudobulbar Affect – frequent, involuntary and uncontrollable outbursts of crying or laughter that are exaggerated or not connected to your emotional state.
This is clearly a key factor to the story and Arthur winds up in some very uncomfortable and dangerous situations because of it.
Make ’em Laugh
One scene that will always stick with me, is when Arthur is on the bus and he starts pulling funny faces at the little girl in front of him and makes her laugh. However the girl’s mother asks Arthur to stop, which sets off his uncontrollable laughter and he hands over his ‘Forgive my laughter: I have a condition‘ card. Despite this, the mum still looks at Arthur as if he’s just escaped an asylum and drops the card to the floor.
Unfortunately, if you talk to most people with any form of mental health condition, whether it’s mental or physical, you’ll find that they have also been on the receiving end of that look.
It is utterly heartbreaking knowing that, despite having an explanation/reason for your behaviour, society will still look at you as if you are ‘crazy’.
Mental health conditions are becoming less of a taboo (eg. depression or anxiety), and there are more open conversations about how to get by in everyday life, but there is still a stigma on a lot of other conditions.
I know many people who are unaware that depression is a blanket term and there are multiple types of this condition.
They Don’t Really Care About Us
Even though it is refreshing to see our protagonist talking to a social worker, they are not particularly interested in Arthur. He mentions this to her during one of their sessions, explaining that she never actually listens to him and just asks the same questions.
The devastating blow is when Arthur is told he will no longer be having any more sessions due to funding cuts. The social worker tells Arthur “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur. You don’t have a voice and they don’t really care what happens to you or to us for that matter.” and his final words are “How am I gonna get my medication?“
This is the brutal reality of how crap the mental health services may have been back in the late 70s, early 80s. Now it’s 2021 and access to mental health services is not much better.
You can go and see a private therapist, just make sure you’ve got about £50 spare everytime you want a session. Alternatively you can be referred by a doctor and get about 10 sessions for free (god bless the NHS), start scratching the surface of any issues/trauma you’re trying to work through and then have to go right back to the beginning again.
Although free therapy is a huge benefit for those who may not be able to afford it themselves, doctors do not make this easy!
So whether it’s 1981 or 2021, it’s still incredibly hard to gain access to the help you need when it comes to mental health conditions and the top dogs really couldn’t care less.
Eat the Rich
Another theme in Joker is the very clear divide between the lower and upper classes, especially after the three Wall Street guys are killed.
Arthur’s violent outburst turns him into somewhat of an accidental revolutionary, with the lower/working class citizens praising his actions and hailing him a hero. It’s not long after the train killings that we notice the people of Gotham start to fight back against Thomas Wayne and his upper class lackies.
More people start wearing clown masks and ‘Eat the Rich‘ is the headline on most of the newspapers as well as on signs at the riots and protests. The riot scenes are actually quite beautiful. From the heartwarming nod to Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ when Arthur is looking out of the window of the police car, to his rescue and the inevitable Batman ‘tie in’ we were all waiting for.
Fast forward to 2020 and you’ll see that ‘Eat the Rich’ has become very popular with leftists and those fed up with how the conservative and far right side of society are treating them. You only need to look at what happened in America in 2020 and the way the BLM movement was ridiculed by the Republicans. Or how the Tory government in the UK has favoured the rich in a majority of their decisions. I am honestly surprised there has not been an uprising already! Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if those who have been marginalised, revolted against our useless government and take control.
Nothing has Changed
The reason Joker made me feel so damn uneasy is, despite the fact that it is set in the late 70s/early 80s, it is still ridiculously relevant! All you need to do is change the era it’s set in, and it’s exactly what is happening in our everyday lives. People are still struggling to get help with their mental health. The upper class toffs are still getting away with whatever the hell they want because they’ve got the money! I cannot confirm that this was the vibe Todd Phillips was going for, but it would certainly make sense! The perfect way to lull people into a false sense of security is to ‘promise’ them a film on a character that is just as popular as his masked nemesis, and then hit them where it hurts!
And if you didn’t understand it… Maybe you need to open your eyes.