“Joker” reflects society and mental illness

Imani Muhammad

“Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips, was released Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. It follows the protagonist, Arthur Fleck, also known as Joker (Joaquin Phoenix), whose hardening abuse and mental illness gradually shape his overall character.

The film has a predictable plot, depicting the life of a notorious villain with whom we are all familiar from Batman’s origin stories.

As the previews and trailers hype it over the skim, I at first thought it might not be about the Joker we all know, or maybe that it was about someone who influences the Joker.

It seems the movie “Joker” had a typical theme of the notoriaous villain being a hero in his own eyes.

However, I did enjoy many aspects of the film and but it was not just about Joker’s insanity as I had perhaps expected.

Take that idea one step further. Let’s talk about how mental illness stems mostly from childhood abuse. Let’s talk about how society doesn’t do much help for the mentally unstable.

Let’s talk about politics and riots, because how it all comes together in this movie expresses itself literally and metaphorically in my favorite line from the movie: “Gotham has lost its way.”

The symbolism of the notebook, the children, the mask and the smile are all repetitive symbols of irony that appear throughout the story.

Arthur fails to be recognized by society until he puts on a mask of a painted smile to suppress his deeply embedded hatred toward the hierarchy that runs Gotham.

Every scene we see illustrates a rundown city. Every interaction we see ends violently.

So, Joker is crazy because of the lack of empathy he sees in the society around him. There’s a scene when Arthur’s social worker, who seemingly never listens to him and his issues, tells him that because of Gotham’s budget cuts, he wouldn’t have access to his medicine or medical treatment.

That’s just his luck. Beyond that, the bathrooms, the apartments and the trains are terrible in Gotham. The hierarchy doesn’t want to keep the city up so everyone below them has an attitude with each other.

So, violence follows when the mentally ill aren’t provided for, and disrespect follows because of everyday people having to deal with these conditions.

This leaves me thanking God there is a Batman in this world, else it would be doomed. He may be a part of Gotham’s poisonous aristocracy, but he wields that power with care and benevolence.

So, what is the call to action in “Joker”? Are the wealthy morally obligated to aid the poor? No. Should they?

Phillips seems to think so, as it is revealed in the end that the aristocracy’s illusory bubble of not needing to take responsibility will pop before too long.

That said, I encourage everyone to see how it all comes together, not only for Batman’s story, but for Joker’s narrative and how the two storylines interact with each other.