Why ?Joker? may be the most provocative film ever made about mental illness.
The full quote as referenced in the title is the following: ?What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society who abandons him and treats him like trash??
As the scene plays out in full ?
I use the word ?provocative? in the sub-heading as, of course, not all mental illness is so extreme.
Nor is it particularly inclusive as a catch-all term, the unique plight of savants as a case in point whose rare skills many of us misunderstand and consider a ?gift? as opposed to an ?illness.?
The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future
Savant syndrome is a rare, but extraordinary, condition in which persons with serious mental disabilities, including?
Only to many savants, their unique abilities ? and troubles ? more frequently make them feel and act like outcasts.
As dramatized in film, for example ?
Why ?Good Will Hunting? is One of the 1990?s Best and Most Important Films
For mental health professionals, special needs students and general audiences, the end-result of this production is an?
And as lived, in this event as a shared experience when I was a special education teacher of severely emotionally disturbed high school students ?
His Name Was Daniel
He Could Have Been My Son. He died in a gunfight with cops following a high-speed car chase. I will not blame myself?
We have no indication Arthur Fleck, the man behind Joker?s facade, is a savant. However, he was a failed stand-up comedian who appeared to have had something more on the ball ? a certain insight, perhaps ? than he was able to wrangle.
?I used to think my life was a tragedy. Now I realize it?s a fucking comedy.? ? Arthur
Creativity and madness may be a natural combination, but when psychosis and nihilism is in the mix ? and guns, we have a problem.
Madness and the Creative Mind: Not a Dime’s Bit of Difference?
Introduction I frequently ruminate about my general inability to focus on most anything other than my writing – which I?
Arthur was creative, and within his psychosis he suffered a malady where he could not stop inappropriately laughing, often maniacally, when his emotions overwhelmed him.
He even carried a card explaining this particular aspect of his illness in case he found himself in trouble.
Arthur was certainly no clown, though he dressed and for a time worked as one, spinning a sign in front of a random Gotham City shop (being mugged in the process) and visiting ill children; he tended to mind his business and strived to bring joy into the lives of those who needed it.
Or so he said. What we discover early is Arthur is on medication, and has spent time hospitalized before being released to live with his mentally ill mother.
?She always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She says I was put here to spread joy and laughter.? ? Arthur, in a fantasy sequence with his favorite talk show host, Murray Franklin
He was working an honest job maybe to pay the bills, maybe as a distraction … but as a creative spirit there was a whole other passionate identity screaming to rise. Regardless, he was accepted by few, until a chance clip of one of his ill-fated stand-up routines aired on ?The Murray Franklin Show,? he and his mom?s favorite nightly talkfest. So unexpected was the audience response that Arthur was invited to appear on the show as a guest.
Murray didn?t know Arthur was the clown who shot and killed three Wall Street types, all men who had been riding on the subway, thereby causing a cult following of other clowns ? or protesters against economic inequality dressed as clowns in deference to be more accurate ? and so when he appeared in-person on Murray?s show everything crashed from there.
From Villians.Fandom.com, regarding the clown cult: They are a massive movement of people who wear clown masks on their faces, aiming to instigate an anarchist mutiny against the rich and the powerful population. They were inspired by Arthur Fleck?s murder of three Wall Street men on the subway.
Arthur, who by then had become an empowered messiah, had finally attained the acceptance that he so sought.
For once, a large segment of society had come around to his way of thinking. This group had neither abandoned him, nor will they treat him ?like trash.?
Arthur Fleck once wrote in a notebook:
?I just hope my death makes more sense than my life.?
He had also told his social worker:
?Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there??
From here forward I?ll use the broader term ?mental health? when I can, an umbrella that covers the gamut of psychological illness and well-being to more accurately pinpoint one?s baseline (measured starting point) and progression.
Or regression, in this case.
?Joker? is a case study of the decline of mental health … of one who was of damaged mind to begin with.
Director and co-writer Todd Phillips? film was thematically inspired by two Martin Scorsese classics, ?Taxi Driver? (1976) and ?The King of Comedy? (1982), as well as the 1988 graphic novel, ?Batman: The Killing Joke.?
Phillips shared writing credit with Scott Silver, and the weaved story threads of their inspirations are easily identifiable.
Like ?Joker,? Scorsese?s ?Taxi Driver? portrayed a disturbed loner, with few authentic relationships outside of his work environment, bent on saving his soul by saving the world. From a studio-approved synopsis: Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster). In much the same way as Vietnam vet Travis Bickle?s worldview was skewed in perspective to his illness, Arthur?s condition deteriorated to where he earned his freedom following personal acts of extreme violence, in this instance his third (counting the subway killings as one) following the smothering of his mother.
He brutally snuffed a co-worker?s life shortly thereafter, an act that once and for all released Arthur?s repressed dark soul as celebrated in one of the most iconic movie sequences of recent years.
In ?King of Comedy,? Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a failure in life but a celebrity in his own mind, hosting an imaginary talk show in his mother?s basement. When he meets actual talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), he?s convinced it will provide his big break, but Langford isn?t interested in the would-be comedian. Undaunted, Pupkin effectively stalks Langford ? and when that doesn?t work, he kidnaps him, offering his release in exchange for a guest spot on Langford?s show.
(The preceding italicized section has likewise been quoted from a studio-approved synopsis.)
De Niro, who played talk show host Murray Franklin in ?Joker,? could have just as easily been called ?Rupert Pupkin? in the newer film ? which also could have been considered quite the effective sequel if the stars were aligned. Alas, if we swapped the sociopathy of Arthur?s alter with Rupert Pupkin in ?Joker,? what results is still the tale of a man who takes the law into his own hands to attain what he so needs: His true self.
Martin Scorsese himself was attached to ?Joker? for several years, but according to the legendary director in a November, 2019 BBC interview: ?I thought about it a lot over the past four years ? and I decided that I didn?t have the time for it ? It was personal reasons why I didn?t get involved. But I know the script very well ? For me, ultimately, I don?t know if I make the next step, which is to this character developing into a comic book character. He develops into an abstraction. That doesn?t mean it?s bad art. It could be, but it?s not for me.?
Scorsese had before and since expressed a visceral dislike for comic book-themed movies, of which ?Joker? was technically one of the crowd but not considered anything more than a ?standalone? for the DCU (DC Comics Universe).
In ?Batman: The Killing Joke,? Joker?s origin story is explored and the character is indeed a failed stand-up comic. In this story, though, he was an engineer and family man first who failed at stand-up. The graphic novel by Alan Moore (?Watchmen?), Brian Bolland (?Judge Dredd?) and John Higgins (?2000 AD?) is a loose inspiration, but an inspiration nonetheless.
Pre-Release and Controversy
Speaking personally, this artful teaser reached me like few before or since. Clearly something special beckoned, and the Charlie Chaplin-written ?Smile? pervasive in the clips was a perfect, poignant choice. The teaser was released online on April 3, 2019, the day after its exclusive preview at San Diego?s Comic Con International.
On September 7, 2019 the film won the Golden Lion, the top award at the 76th annual Venice International Film Festival.
Director Todd Phillips, left, with Joaquin Phoenix
Word was out. The film left many viewers aghast, and would engender ? and embrace ? controversy.
The greatest fear on the part of exhibitors was the film would provoke violence. So widespread was the concern that the U.S. military got involved.
The U.S. Military Sends Warning About Joker Screenings And Possible Violence
If there’s one upcoming movie on everyone’s lips, its Todd Phillips’ Joker. The psychological origin story was met with?
?Joker? was set to be released on October 4, 2019 in the U.S. Many theaters added extra security, in part as a precaution to avoid another mass shooting such as that in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, when James Eagan Holmes shot up a local theater during a midnight screening of ?The Dark Knight Rises.?
Though threats were indeed received for ?Joker? screenings, undercover cops were frequently in attendance, costumes and masks were banned from many theaters, and other protective measures were taken ? the expected violence did not occur.
Instead, borrowing a turn of phrase: The controversy created cash.
Release and Reception
?Joker? was a smash, and to date is the highest-grossing R-rated film in history (unadjusted for inflation) with a global take of over $1 billion.
Despite the advance word, some of us entering the theater nonetheless expected a dark comic book movie. ?Joker? was anything but a comic book film, and its grosses exposed a larger mainstream audience than ever to the plight of a mentally ill individual.
Critics and fans were split, with many praising the film?s acting and technical achievements while diverging on the film?s bleak tone.
?Put on a happy face? only takes a person with mental health issues so far, after all. Suppressing honest emotions due to a perceived stigma remains one of the leading causes of self-harm of the mentally ill.
Which several critics pointed out, stressing the film was too ?real.?
In my sole opinion, in terms of both cinema and a fictional portrayal of the decline of one?s mental health, Todd Phillips? ?Joker? is a masterclass and Joaquin Phoenix?s downright horrifying performance well-deserved its accolades, and then some. The film received 11 Oscar nominations, winning for Best Original Music Score (Hildur Gunadttir), and Best Actor (Phoenix).
For further information on ?Joker,? from development to post-release, check out the following Wikipedia article:
Joker (2019 film)
Joker is a 2019 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the?
Wrapping up ?
From the perspective of this former special education teacher who completed a comprehensive three-year course load in Abnormal Psychology, ?Joker? may be the most valuable film of its decade. It is certainly among the most discussed, and in our current sociopolitical climate I believe it has done more to call attention to mental health issues than our politicians and doctors, the latter who have been as suppressed of late as many of their patients. I believe the film is that important, presenting textbook warning signs for authorities, teachers, therapists, and even armchair social media contributors as to what to look out for in a troubled spirit.
?Mentally ill loners? are especially prevalent in today?s volatile world.
Enabling them to lie to themselves will not help, nor will turning your backs on them.
Such are ?Joker?s? enduring messages.
Thank you for reading.
LIFELINE INFORMATION: If you or someone you love is battling mental health-related issues, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1?800?273?8255.
Lifeline Chat is a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connecting individuals with counselors for?
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