The Underlying Dangers of “Joker”

Mifuyu H. ('21)

Much like the polarizing personality of the “Joker” portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips’ film itself has bred a tsunami of discourse among critics. While Michael Moore, an Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author called the film a “masterpiece” and tweeted that “the greater danger to society may be if you DON’T go see this movie”, the New York Times described the film as “weightless and shallow” and The Guardian as “the most disappointing film of the year”.

Proponents of the film believe that it justly addresses the injustices present in modern-day society through the prominent illustration of controversial issues such as mental health, governmental corruption, destitution, and systematic oppression. To this end, Dr. Lewter, a psychologist at Stratford University claims that the film provides potent insight into the impacts of the public’s ferocity and insensitivity. Accordingly, in the film, the ill-treatment from the public and the lack of social support Joker receives is what exacerbates his mental health ramifications. Furthermore, the film’s plot, set amid a time of economic turmoil, depicts crisis under the leadership of white, corrupt, affluent, and callous politicians, which mirrors today’s crisis under President Donald Trump and his team. Due to the many overlaps, Crusader News believes that the film is an embodiment of our near future, “where if we don't take action now, we could end up in a world much like what we saw in Joker.” However, these allegations prove to not be entirely true.

Society has recently witnessed great footprints of mental health awareness around depression and anxiety, with more and more celebrities opening up about their struggles with these mental illnesses. But even with sufficient knowledge, after watching the film, it is probable that certain audience members may, mistakenly, come away thinking that those suffering from mental illness are innately violent. However, studies claim the contrary. Despite Joker being portrayed as a serial killer due to mental health, victims of mental health are more susceptible to violence from others. Instead of imposing harm on others, these victims are more likely to harm themselves. In contrast to the great leaps society has taken in regards to depression and anxiety, less-known mental health conditions, including Schizotypal personality disorder which Joker suffers from, according to Dr. Raine, a Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, remain shrouded in prevailing ignorance. Not only does this misinform the audience but it stigmatizes those undergoing a battle with their mental health by perpetuating damaging stereotypes and fallibly portraying mental health. 

To make matters worse, although fanciful, the film in which Joker turns to gun violence to cope with his mental illness can easily be undermined by gun rights advocates. After mass shootings, proponents almost always ascribe mental illness to gun violence as a way to belittle the real issue of gun laws and divert the stimulating conversation towards mental health reform. Correspondingly, in response to the mass shootings which occurred in El Paso and Dayton back in August of 2019, President Trump gave a statement that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” The film, yet again, sends an inaccurate message.

“Joker” is more than an unsettling and disturbing film; it nose-dives into a crevice of depravity, surrounded by issues that shriek attention’s name. 

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