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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Joker is the villain we deserve

Illustration by Zhorik Roseburg

By Emily Erskine

It has taken society decades to come to the conclusion that depression and anxiety are real struggles people face. But what about other mental illnesses?

In Todd Philip’s latest film, “Joker,” played exquisitely by Joaquin Phoenix, we enter into the world of Arthur Fleck, a character suffering from compulsions, hallucinations and other pathologies unnamed but easily inferred. 

The buzz surrounding this film alludes to the notion that upon seeing this kind of specific violence, people suffering with similar tendencies may be more inclined to act out in dangerous ways.

I disagree.

In a time of wealth disparity, stigmas surrounding mental health and increasing social isolation, “Joker,” is the exact narrative our country needed to see.

I appreciate movies that showcase the human experience in a real and uncomfortable way. Movies which show the moments that people finally reach their breaking point, and what led them to get there. 

Fleck, the product of a flawed and maybe even failed system, is left to navigate life without any sort of guidance or support. Funding for his counseling sessions are cut, his mother is ill and his cerebral injuries leave him a social outcast in a world that walks over anyone whois different.

Painted over a dark, 1970’s New York-esque city, filled with trash, moonlight and shadows, “Joker” pays homage to a Scorsese-like vision that is reminiscent of “Taxi Driver.” In this version of the city, we get to see people in their darkest realities.

Phoenix delivers a chilling performance that, at one point, made me say to myself, “This is good. This is really good.” I don’t think that anyone else could capture that sort of dark discomfort this film has to offer. We are left alone to watch him distort his body, emit shrill and lingering laughter against his control and fantasize about a different life. 

There is no escaping the creepy mundaneness of this portrayal, and you cannot look away no matter how hard you try. 

Art like this leaves me feeling like the world is a scary and messed up place that I have little to no control of, but the common thread that pulls us all together is that everyone is suffering. I see the value in not glorifying the guy that wants to be seen, and does so by killing, but I also see the merit of looking deeper into the genesis of one of pop culture’s most infamous villains. 

Yes, I do think most of us will leave this movie feeling conflicted about the joker, but I don’t think it is a mistake to show humans at their grittiest and grimmest. I even think it can help lead to social change. 

At worst, this movie is a great source of entertainment and visual stimulation, at best I think this movie acts as a mirror to a society that is lacking a lot of humanity these days.

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