Mental Illness Portrayed in The Joker is Both Raw and Revolutionary

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

When it comes to mental illness there are many famous characters, Jack Torrance from The Shining, Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, The Narrator from Fight Club, the list goes on and on but the single most famous character has to be the Joker. The Joker has long been a symbol and an in-depth exploration for mental illness and with the new movie starring Joaquin Phoenix a new light and perspective has been brought forth on the subject.

There are several points on mental illness made in this movie but I think one of the most significant is the effects the medicine has on our main character Arthur Fleck. If you’ve seen the movie you know early on that Arthur sees his social worker who tells him that this is going to be his last visit meaning he won’t be able to get the medicine for his mental illnesses that he needs. This one scene raises a lot of questions throughout the entire movie. 

While medicine in conjunction with mental health can be sometimes controversial it can help to an extent in some cases, but we can see with Arthur that his case is a bit difficult. While we don’t know what exactly he’s taking we can make some guesses based on his behavior throughout the film. We know that one of his conditions is one called the Pseudobulbar affect also known as PBA. PBA, as defined by pbainfo.org, is “a condition that causes uncontrollable crying and/or laughing that happens suddenly and frequently. It can happen in people with a brain injury or certain neurological conditions.” We see throughout the film when Arthur lets out random, unintentional fits of laughter that he doesn’t do on purpose and can’t control. 

We can also see through Arthur’s “relationship” with Sophie he experiences Psychosis. Psychosis is a form of mental illness but it never comes by itself, psychosis usually comes with another mental illness or disorders like depression, schizophrenia, trauma, or borderline personality disorder just to name a few. We know that Arthur already has experienced trauma several times in his life so we can attribute the psychosis to that, but I think that due to the serious amount of trauma Arthur has endured that he suffers from severe depression and most likely anxiety. 

I come to this conclusion because Arthur has experienced severe ongoing and intense one-off events that can cause depression and anxiety. When Arthur was a child his mother’s boyfriend would abuse him constantly which on its own can cause depression and anxiety but there are several other factors to include. Arthur struggles financially; he has to take care of his mother, whose health is so poor she ends up in the hospital; he gets beat up and bullied multiple times in the movie, with one event leading to him shooting and killing the men who are hurting him; he gets bullied by his idol on national tv; he can’t fully reach his dream of being a comedian because of his place society; he has his welfare and medical assistance is taken away; he loses his job; he learns that woman who has raised him isn’t his real mother and has no clue as to who his biological family is. 

The point is that every single one of these events contributes to Arthur’s mental illness causing trauma, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. With these facts, we can piece together what medicine Arthur has been denied. My inference is that Arthur was prescribed some form of an antipsychotic to help with the psychosis; an antidepressant to help the depression, PBA, and trauma; and an anxiety medication. 

The thing with all these medications is that they coexist in the same way the mental illnesses exist together. This coexistence means that these medicines react to the other's existence. The antipsychotic while minimizing psychosis can help increase depression which means the antidepressant can’t do the job it needs too. And anti-anxiety medications while helpful can be toxic and dangerous to body and mind depending on what antidepressants you use. So even though Arthur takes all of these medications he still has to use himself and will to try and be a productive member of society he’s supposed to be, but it’s still unbelievably difficult. 

The medicine helps to an extent, but we see that Arthur’s social worker is taking away his medical assistance meaning he can’t acquire these medications. That brings us to the following question: If Arthur isn’t receiving his medication throughout the movie how much is real? 

The fact is we don’t know how much is and isn’t real, but I think that’s one of the main points of this movie. Through the Joker we get to see a bit into Arthur’s mind meaning we have to try to understand what he’s seeing. 

We are placed in his shoes, his point of view, and we see how hard it is to determine what’s happening around us. The Joker opens up a conversation about mental illness and to an extent mental health. We all have to find a way to take care of our mental health, but for those of us with mental illness it opens up the discussion in popular culture that can help encourage more research and dialogue into a serious subject that millions of people suffer from.

 It’s opening up pathways to help different people and that’s incredibly significant in a society where so many people say “oh it’s just in your head!” The Joker is helping people and it’s incredibly important to if you can try to go see it and if you can’t go online! 

There are so many great pieces online discussing the movie where you can learn about what the Joker is talking about. Getting involved in a conversation on the subject helps to spread the importance of researching mental illness.