Joaquin Phoenix has been making headlines left and right with his latest film ‘Joker’ (2019). Despite the critical acclaim, breaking box office records, and rumors of an Oscars nomination, the film has been surrounded by criticism and controversy.
Mental Health and Violence
There are two major aspects of the Joker that have been under fire: the possibility to insight violence and the depiction of Arthur Fleck’s mental health. Radicalization expert Robert Evans addressed the first issue in a recent interview.
The antisocial behaviors of Arthur Fleck found several viewers concerned that his personality and actions would inspire real-world violence. This is largely due in part to the Dark Knight premiere shooting which happened several years prior.
While that tragedy is very much still fresh in the minds of anyone following the gun control debate in America, one key aspect is being forgotten.
“I think the chief reason, and the unjustified reason, that people are focusing on the Joker movie is The Dark Knight Rises and the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora.”
There’s actually a major misconception: The shooter was not dressing up as the Joker [during the attack on the movie theater]. He was in no way trying to carry out something from the movie. I have never seen any evidence that he was a particular fan of Heath Ledger’s Joker or of that [film] in general. This was misinformation that was put out by a police officer who was interviewed by a couple of newspapers.” Said Evans.
Another key aspect is that most mass shooters are not mentally ill. The latest Joker has us watching Arthur Fleck descend into madness when he was already visibly mentally unstable.
This relates to the second biggest critique of the film, which was all the points of mental health it got wrong. Psychiatrist Ziv Cohen commented on why having a violent character depicted as mentally ill is problematic.
“Research clearly indicates that individuals with mental illness are no more violent than the population as a whole. In fact, persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them.”
Cohen also states that none of Fleck’s behavior meets the criteria of any mental illness. So despite being committed to a mental hospital, his mental health has nothing to do with his violent tendencies.
However, his clear lack of reality and a history of delusions did leave many people wondering what was real and if we’ll see more.
Room for a Sequel and a Cryptic Ending
There are several instances throughout the film that we discover aren’t real. Fleck and his mother both suffer from delusions. This leaves many to wonder how much of his violent adventures are real. As well, if there’s room for more of the Joker; whether real or not.
This is most important in the closing scene, where he is running from a guard in Arkham Asylum. In the comics, Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn is the Joker’s psychiatrist who ends being manipulated into falling in love with the crime king of Gotham.
The setting is just right for her character to be introduced, but it doesn’t happen in this film.
Beyond this, many theories are being tossed around as to what the ending of the film meant. The most popular is that it’s all in Fleck’s head, which we know is true to some extent.
Another theory, which has been quite popular on Reddit, is that due to the change in tone and aesthetic at the end, we have jumped into the future and Gotham has arrived at the peak of it’s crime activity with the Joker going in and out of Arkham Asylum.
No matter what is true or if Phoenix decides to come back for a second movie, there’s no denying the hype surrounding this movie is going away.