“LOne of the most profound and powerful films about mental illness I can recall seeing. The way it depicted childhood trauma leading to mental illness, psychosis and psychopathy in adulthood was disturbing and visceral.
More disturbing though, were the statements it made about how we treat and view mental illness as a culture. I think generally, most of society would like to believe that monsters are born- their pathology predetermined. It makes it easier to look away, to avoid feeling responsible, to act like the mess is someone else’s problem to address. At least until that monster shoots up a school or a concert, and then we feel entitled to be outraged? The truth is, many monsters are made, shaped by years of trauma, neglect, and lack of access to both mental health care and empathy. And still, despite years of suffering failed attempts, they still long for human connection, until one day they finally snap. The system, and society, didn’t just fail Arthur; it failed his mom. “Joker” was 40 years in the making, and what we witness in this film is the result of prolonged, unresolved generational trauma.
Even among my colleagues, I have sadly heard disheartening descriptions of how Joker’s incessant (and INVOLUNTARY) laughter throughout the film was “annoying” or “bothersome” while being fully aware that it is as a result of traumatic brain injuries suffered during childhood abuse (see Pseudobulbar Affect). The laughter I heard in the audience during several very emotionally painful scenes, further speaks to the pervasive ignorance that still hangs over our culture regarding mental illness. During a particular scene after a violent act is captured on live TV, the camera pans back to show a cluster of TV screens covering the footage, interspersed with commercials for Rolling Rock, and Energizer, and Corn Flakes. This is the atmosphere we live in- a 24 hour news cycle where a disturbing mental illness-related tragedy can’t stay in a spotlight for 5 seconds because it has become the norm. Anyone who left the theater feeling like they just watched a disappointing comic book movie completely missed the mark.
We should do better. We can do better.