The genesis for this blog article began with a Twitter poll that asked us to vote on a favorite movie. One of the answers on the poll was Joker (Warner Bros. 2019) and that was easily my answer because I have a mental illness and I am not shy about admitting it because I no longer hate or fear it. Joaquin Phoenix played The Joker and absolutely nailed it. Digression aside, the film is actually accurate social commentary and criticism of the way society at large manages mental illness. It is 2021 and we have all kinds of modern medicines to help manage mental illness and it is still treated with hatred and fear versus compassion and empathy.
While Joker takes place in the 1970s, the viewer can easily see how some 45+ years later, society still has not evolved towards a more tolerant and accepting approach to people whom suffer from mental illness. There are several poignant scenes that are illustrative of this. Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is riding on the bus when he suddenly bursts out laughing and has to hold a card explaining the reason why. Instead of anything resembling compassion, he’s met with extreme dislike. In another scene we see that Fleck is the object of ridicule in his job and is subject to cruel pranks and bullying by his peers. This could easily have been myself when I was a teenager.
Perhaps the scene that captures society’s overall attitude towards the most vulnerable in society is Arthur Fleck’s final visit with his social worker. It becomes his final visit because his social worker relates that her employment was terminated due to budget cuts. Budget cuts often effect the most vulnerable, i.e. the poor, disabled, and mentally ill, first. The social worker, played by Karen Washington, said “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur. And they don’t give a shit about people like me either.” This brutally honest line leaves nothing to ambiguity of just how awful people can be treated.
I am encouraged that things seem to have improved some in the present day and we are slowly becoming more learned of the situation but the change is happening at a glacial pace. People are in need of the services now so that they can lead a life in dignity. Unfortunately, with this recognition of need, comes capitalism and price gouging for the medicines that can help make the illness far more manageable. Again, I digress because Joker makes me think critically about our society and how much further we must go.