‘Joker’ Film Starring Joaquin Phoenix Romanticizes Mental Illness

By Mia Agee and Sofia Nelson -

Mild spoilers ahead!

Joker, the newest film involving the beloved clown-faced villain, stirred up much controversy within the DC Comics universe. The movie’s director, Todd Phillips, constructed a storyline unlike any other film the Joker has appeared in, and it has become a love-hate relationship with fans.

The very first TV appearance of “the Joker” was on the show Batman in 1966 where the role was played by Cesar Romero. Romero acted alongside Adam West as Batman and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. Unfortunately, the Joker’s longtime confidant “the Penguin” does not appear in the 2019 film like he continually does in the television show.

The comedic fiend appeared in a movie for the first time the same year with Romero reprising the role. 23 years later, Jack Nicholson played the Joker in the 1989 film with the same name - Batman. The actor’s performance was ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 best villains portrayed in movies.

Almost 20 years later after the second Batman, Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight. It is considered to be Ledger’s best performance in all his years of acting. The same thing is being said about Joaquin Phoenix in the 2019 film, Joker.

Phoenix plays the role of Arthur Fleck, a struggling, psychopathic comedian. Fleck’s character had been abused in his childhood, leading him to a hallucinatory and depressed state of mind.

In preparing for this role, Phoenix dropped 52 pounds and essentially became an introvert just like Arthur Fleck. He embodied the Joker as much as he could through his interactions and demeanor. After he was done filming for the day, he would go straight to his trailer and not talk to anyone or go out to eat.

The Joker villain has always been depicted as gratuitously evil, but in the latest film, the reasons behind his evil actions are explained. Fleck was mistreated by his stepmom’s boyfriend at a young age, which contributed to his laughing disorder, pseudobulbar affect (PBA).

After being cast out by his coworkers and disregarded by society, the aspiring stand-up comedian searches inside himself for acceptance. Fleck eventually gets so frustrated with the world’s inability to understand him that he starts committing crimes and wreaking havoc on Gotham City.

“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t,” Fleck wrote in his journal.

His character eventually becomes “the Joker,” an alter ego version of himself. He murders people, stops taking his medication and creates a citywide revolution to take down the rich and entitled.

After gaining negative publicity from his stand-up routine, Fleck reaches a new level of anger. He is invited to appear on a popular talk show hosted by his idol, Murray Franklin. On the show, he admits he is responsible for multiple murders, followed by him murdering Franklin on camera.

The gore level gradually increases throughout the film leading up to intense violence and murder scenes. In the first murder scene, Fleck fully embraces himself as the green-haired, painted-face Joker.

Fleck’s menacing, eccentric dancing also helped add a flair to the Joker’s psychotic attitude.

The heavy influence of mental illness and bloodshed give this movie a dark character. The film also glorifies brutality and insanity. Viewer discretion is advised if you are under the age of 15.

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