JOKER: Who's laughing now?

The movie “JOKER” premiered on August 31st,2019, in the Venice International Film Festival earning a standing ovation and the award of the Golden Lion for Best Film. Since then, the much-discussed movie has grossed over $852 million worldwide making it one of the most successful movies of 2019. The main character, Arthur Fleck, a clown and aspiring stand-up comedian is struggling with everyday life and a variety of mental illnesses and eventually spirals down to the darkest places of his mind, where he finds “Joker”. Joker has murderous tendencies and creates social chaos, disregarding any form of rationale. His revengeful attitude towards society and people emits fear, unpredictability and madness.

Viewers and critics applauded Joaquin Phoenix’s acting and interpretation of the role while most of them were amazed by the film, characterizing it as a remarkable endeavor. However, the criminal behavior and violence portrayed was one of the issues arising from the movie that divided public opinion, with some viewers walking out of the theaters and condemning the film for inspiring social anarchy. After the release of the film in Canada many critics were pondering Joker’s potential to inspire acts of domestic terrorism. In the US, its screening in theaters was met with high security measures in fear of another mass shooting like the one in Colorado (2012) during a screening of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises”, in which the shooter killed 12 and injured 70 civilians. Concerned voices argued that the movie glorifies violence and adopts a sympathetic view towards toxic behavior. Although the concerns of these social groups are understandable, they seem quite ironic given the fact that in modern society technology, the media, and imperialistic policies are the first to introduce violence in humanity. The main target audience of online video games, many of which with a violent content, are young children. The live stream coverage and the viewing of massacres and slaughters make exposition to violence a routine phenomenon. It is impossible to close our eyes to everyday events and ongoing wars and pretend that violence is merely a theoretical concept triggered by a movie scene.

Another matter that created division is the way Arthur’s mental illness is shown through the lens. In the movie, his violent outbursts and his final “breaking point” seem to be caused by his crumbling mental health and the unfortunate circumstances of his life. Nevertheless, it needs to be emphasized that the stereotype presented in the movie and the notion that severe mental illnesses and deterioration of intellect lead to extreme violence is not accurate. Despite that, the film successfully manages to spark a stimulating conversation about mental health amongst a huge audience. “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t “. This phrase from Arthur’s diary perfectly captures society’s attitude towards mental illness, an attitude which only recently has started to shift. In the movie, due to a cut-back on social services expenditures the protagonist will no longer be able to have access to his medication or counselling sessions and this event finds its origin in real life situations. Mental illnesses are often considered as inferior in comparison to physical illnesses even though they can affect an individual’s routine, relationships and psychology. The problem is amplified by the fact that most people that struggle with some form of mental illness find it difficult to be heard and until society starts to speak openly and seek solutions to mental health issues, no actual progress can be achieved.

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