Movie Review: “Joker” delivers poignant view at serious mental illness

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Let me start this off by saying I’m a massive fan of the Joker character. He is by far my favorite of the D.C. Comics villains and superheroes. Why? I don’t know. I’ve always been drawn to the character and after watching Heath Ledger’s amazing take on the killer clown, I was definitely hooked. I wasn’t a fan of the Jared Leto take in “Suicide Squad,” so to hear the Joker was getting another go, this time one that would do the character some real justice, is phenomenal.

When I heard about “Joker” earlier this year, I was stoked; I was texting my best friend and dancing in my room. Those teaser trailers, though! I’ve had a countdown on my phone since I saw the first trailer. It doesn’t help my cause that I’m a massive Joaquin Phoenix fan as well. Last Friday, my brother and I finally had a mutual night off and we took to the movie theater to catch the movie of the year.

Boy, oh boy, is it the movie of the year. In my opinion, we’re looking at a major Oscar contender.

Let me just stop you right here: if you want to compare and contrast Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips’s take on the clown with that of Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger, you can’t. Ledger was playing a fully formed, criminal character of uncontrolled chaos. “Joker,” and Phoenix’s performance as the mentally ill, down-on-his-luck Arthur Fleck, demonstrates the descent into madness that the Joker is all about. As Fleck shows us, sometimes people are one bad day, one bad train ride, one bad conversation from becoming unhinged. To compare Ledger and Phoenix is unfair to both. Each did the role a massive justice and displayed confidence and competence with the character at hand.

What “Joker” really did for me was shed some much needed light on the rampant appearance of serious, untreated mental illness in this country. Fleck is sick; there’s no denying it. As he visits his county-appointed doctor for his seven medications and asks for an increase because “all [he has] are negative thoughts,” you’re saddened by the lack of help for the mentally ill. As he continues his downward spiral, you see where the system, and Fleck himself, could have stepped up and saved the next disaster in multiple occasions, but it isn’t stopped. Mental illness is a slope — and those who are afflicted often don’t know how far they’ve slipped until they can’t get themselves back up.

Everything about this movie was well done. The slow progression of Fleck’s illness (and I do mean slow, you don’t actually meet the Joker until almost the end of the two-hour-plus movie), the building tension, the inevitable crash is all what great cinema is about. While this isn’t as action-packed as its cousins like “The Dark Knight,” each scene and each line is needed. The violence, while graphic and disturbing for some viewers, is necessary and quite honestly, not obnoxious. It makes sense and the depravity of the circumstances not only gives the viewer an idea of what’s gone wrong, but where “Joker” is heading.

If you’ve been mulling over seeing “Joker,” I recommend taking a night out and seeing it. Even if you end up not liking the movie, you might walk away with a much bigger picture of a major problem that needs righting in our society. Rarely does a fictional movie speak so successfully about a larger, real problem, but I think the team behind “Joker” has executed it.

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