The Joker Isn’t a Joker After All (Movie Review)

This review contains light-to-medium spoilers. If you want to be completely unspoiled, please come back and read this after you have seen the movie.

Jay and I saw Joker on Saturday. I was a bit hesitant to see it because I had heard that it was dark and my sister had given me the heads up that it was more of a startling portrayal of mental illness than a straight-up villain origin story. Although I didn’t quite know what to expect going into it, that bit of knowledge changed my expectations. I think it gave me a different perspective on the movie overall than I would have had if I had gone in blindly.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this movie. Here’s my tl;dr take:

It’s beautifully shot. The acting is spectacular. I liked the ways that they tie it into the comic book universe. It’s not really as gory as people are making it out to be. All of the John Wick movies are about 100x’s more gory as this movie is. I loved the shot of Arthur in the police car that pays homage to the iconic shot of Heath Ledger’s Joker leaning against the car window in The Dark Knight. I’m a simple movie-goer. I love the sh*t out of Angel Has Fallen this past summer. Even I can appreciate how well-made this movie was.

I think Joker makes people uncomfortable because it’s much more “realistic” than a normal comic-book movie. You leave feeling icky because you know that it’s not really that much of a stretch. The Joker isn’t a campy agent of chaos; he’s a mentally ill individual that the system failed over and over and over again and we have seen that happen in real life over and over and over again.

If you’ve seen all of the Batman movies/TV shows and think of the Joker as some grand villain, then Joker is a buzzkill. The Joker’s backstory in Joker is tragic, but it’s not movie tragic. It’s real-life tragic and that really takes the fun out of the character. When you hear that it’s “dark,” that’s actually code for “could and does happen in real life.” That’s not what you watch a comic book movie for!

Okay, if you’re reading this on my main page, then here’s when you can click to read further. If you’re good based on what I wrote above, then we cool. Check out Jay’s video review of it on Geek. Dad. Life.

I liked Joker a lot more than I thought that I would. I was dreading that the “darkness” would be either a lot of senseless killings or a pejorative portrayal of mental illness. Instead, it challenges us as a society to examine the potential consequences of a broken system that leaves behind those who need it the most as well as the way that we look at and treat mental illness as a whole.

I have struggled with mental health issues. When it was really bad, I was lucky enough to have a support system, health insurance, and the money to pay for medication and therapy. If I had not had those three things, I honestly don’t know if I’d be better right now. I’m in a MUCH healthier place now and it is a direct result of support, health insurance, and the ability to pay for mental health treatment.

tl;dr for the rest of this post: We shouldn’t have mental health care for those who are fortunate enough to have access to and afford it. We should have mental health care for everyone.

In Joker, Arthur struggled. He knew he was having “negative thoughts” and reached out for help. He was ignored. Finally, he gave in to it and the rest is history. Does this excuse Arthur/Joker of his crimes? No, of course not. But it’s compelling that he reached out for help over and over again and was ignored, written off as a weirdo. His uncontrollable laughter, a neurological condition that made him socially awkward, was caused by his mother’s boyfriend beating and starving him as a child. The system failed to help him 30 years earlier. Imagine if young Arthur could have received proper medical care and intervention back then?

When I’m mentally healthy, my family is healthy. Over the last few years, I have come to believe that this is true of all of society in general. When we all have equal access to health care and mental health care, then we ALL win. Think of it as societal herd immunity. “Look at all of these people rioting outside, all because of what you did,” they tell Arthur.

You may argue, “If Arthur had gotten the help he needed, then someone else would have started the riots.”

Yeah, sure, but imagine if all of the Arthurs out there had gotten the help they needed. Just like we’re all less likely to get polio because of access to the polio vaccine, the more people who have access to social programs to help lift them up and above-adequate mental health programs, they healthier we will be as a society.

Getting off of my soap box now. Thank you for making it all this way! If you’re on the fence about seeing this movie, I hope this helped you make a decision.

Here’s Jay’s review on the movie! As always, he’s much more eloquent than I am. He also talks more about the movie itself than I did.

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