JOKERHe’s enraged. Enraged, because it’s better to be enraged than to be sad and lonely. Laughs to himself. Laughs, because it’s better to laugh than to cry. He’s ruthless. Ruthless, because it’s better not to worry about anything than to worry about everything. He’s free. Free, because he’s lonely, cares about nothing and no one, just like nothing and no one cares about him. He’s not constrained by any rules, norms or relationships.
He’s fictional. Fictional, because he’s only a film and comic book character. What the main character of “Joker” experiences is a bundle of problems that many people face in real life though. At the same time, he’s a creation meant to entertain the audience. A part of him is fiction, the creation of a character that you will gladly watch in a cinema. We’ll tell you why some criticise the image of mental illness in this movie and about the important thought that the Joker-the mad man story conveys.
Why so serious?Those who criticize the movie say that the most dangerous and untrue conclusions that can be drawn from the film is that mental illness and extreme violence are connected. Research shows that the connection is exaggerated and people who are affected by a mental illness are more prone to experience violence than other members of society. A mental illness does not necessarily lead to aggression towards others. On the contrary — it frequently accompanies or is an effect of being a victim of aggression.
If we look closely, we can see that the story does not aim to show a mental illness as a route to become violent, but rather demonstrates the role of social factors that pertain to create an inclination towards it. According to a WHO report (as well as the film’s content) such factors are, among others, the following: prior experience of being a victim of violence or an aggressor, poor results at school (lack of support, negligence), peers’, partner’s or parental influence on the shaping of violent behaviors, or a social circle with a low sense of community (the lack of “social glue” that unifies the members of the community, e.g. not knowing one’s neighbors, lack of engagement of inhabitants in the activities of their local community).
What’s more, WHO emphasizes the impact of factors that make allowance for violence, not creating a vision on how to stand against violence and such that foster hostility towards different social groups or tensions between different circles or countries. Such factors can be cultural norms that support or tolerate conflict resolution with violence, putting the needs of parents ahead of the children’s needs or making allowance for the domination over women and children. These are also norms that allow for the use of violence by the police as a form of controlling citizens, that support political conflicts or standpoints promoting suicide as a choice of an individual and not as an act of aggression that needs preventive actions. Those are the factors that shape violent behaviors already in the period of growing up. They don’t make for a sudden accumulation and the birth of a murderer in us.
In the film, Joker experiences hallucinations and delusions, loses contact with reality. The film shows the course of schizophrenia to a certain extent, at the same time demonstrating the influence of narcissistic features and depression. Those who criticize the story as an example of derangement emphasize that it risks illustrating a mental illness as a result of bundling different symptoms from different mental disorders. The fear arises from the attachment of specialists to show an illness to be complex and at the same time demonstrating certain diagnostic boundaries. The interference of different symptoms, eccentricity and violence recreates the shown disorders in a form that does not reflect the real illness, but creates its crooked, gloomy image. As a result, it can strengthen stigmatization and fear. You can read more about mental illnesses here All You Need to Know about the Most Prevalent Mental Disorders.
Why so important?What is worth noticing and reflecting on is the director’s willingness to get at the interdependence of poverty, inequality and social isolation. Social isolation, alienation, discrimination, financial problems, long period of unemployment or domestic violence are the factors that make for the higher risk of mental disorders. The film directs our attention towards the role of social security institutions that support those who live in difficult conditions or are affected by a mental illness. Without such places, people in crisis are left without any help. Sometimes, a regular conversation makes a huge difference in the perception of a boring reality.
In one of the film’s scenes, Joker writes: “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t”. Extreme madness of the main character was not his choice but a result of feeling hopeless. He tried to take medicaments, work, develop his passion, fit in to the society as it wanted to see him but the brutal everyday life overwhelmed him. He was crying for help, yet he experienced ignorance, rejection and humiliation. Let’s not forget that everyone of us, regardless of wealth, origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion or race is worthy of respect, understanding and possibility to grow. The film’s creator shows that a man is what society lets them be. To an extent, it’s us as a community who shape an individual and everyone is responsible both for its failures and its success, development.
The key element of the film is the representation of Joker’s madness as his personality. In real life human is not their mental illness, is not a label, but a person who experiences mental health difficulties. It’s important that the illness does not become the identity of the person affected and that it’s not perceived as one. Otherwise, the risk of labelling, stereotyping, social exclusion and most of all, of loss of hope to improve one’s health, increases.
What can we do?
- Support organizations for mental health, prevention and social inclusion of the affected
- Increase awareness about mental health through psychoeducation
- Not turn the head away from the problem. Be compassionate towards people in difficulty
- Create development routes adapted for individual needs
- Be kind to one another
- World report on violence and health – World Health Organization (https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/42495/9241545615_eng.pdf;jsessionid=48A8539E166AAB1C35E197B521667269?sequence=1)