With the Oscar awards around the corner, there are ample speculations about the winners’. Here’s why Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker which deals with mental health issues is a clear winner.
It was highly uncomfortable for me to watch the subway scene in 2019 Joker, where Joaquin Phoenix is beaten up by a couple of educated and privileged ‘thugs’ for trying to do the right thing. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) suffers from a medical disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. He couldn’t explain it to the thugs because of the uncontrollable laughter fit and without a thought, they turn him black and blue.
Any mental health survivor like this writer can tell you, not being able to explain your ‘condition’ is the root of it all. The scene has even greater implications than what meets the eye. The inability to speak your mind, the anxiety coupled with the ‘you-are-alright-there’s-nothing-like-depression’ stigma. It further pushes a person into a dark abyss in their mind – where actual monsters reside.
Next Arthur shoots two men out of three and runs… his anxiety, pain, madness all clearly visible despite the painted face.
I am stunned. So much to take in just couple of minutes is hard.
I wonder how hard it was for Phoenix to play the character.
Joker The Clown Prince of Chaos
Joker is historically the most infamous character on celluloid. This anti-hero is the agent of chaos, a notorious yin to batman’s righteous yang and yet each actor who portrayed the character was left with lingering chaos and darkness that comes exclusively as Joker.
And any actor playing Joker is living under the shadow of Heath Ledger’s Joker post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. The dark mental place, where Ledger drew the character from – engulfed him. He received an Oscar for Best Supporting Role posthumously.
This year, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is nominated in 11 different categories for the Oscars. Phoenix is nominated in the ‘Best Actor’ category for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck in Todd Philip’s Joker.
The movie is the becoming of the Joker – a take that’s beautifully merged with mental health issues and society at large. The movie is a comeback for superhero movies without any superhero in it. It delves into the past life of Joker… into what made him the way he is.
Christopher Nolan used the theme to make us connect with the unpredictability and deviousness of the character without telling us the origin story. But Todd used the theme to create a wider dialogue about the stigma, he used the origin story to sketch the mental frame of a survivor.
Articulating The Mental Health Issues
The narrative of the movie touches upon the most crucial stigmas in most intense ways like Arthur journalizes, “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”Or in one of the scenes he points out to the social worker who is not even paying attention to what he is saying, “For my whole life I didn’t think I existed.”
Visually, director Todd Philips captured Phoenix’s silhouette beautifully on-screen that in some passing frames, fans almost feel its Ledger not Phoenix till the camera shows you otherwise. In other instances, he has shown the body transformation in most impeccable ways and the weight loss is apparent from the start.
A three-time Oscar nominee Phoenix is one of the most respected actors to take up the role. He is known to lose himself in the roles he is playing and Arthur Fleck wasn’t any different to start with. He lost 52 pounds for the role. He told ET, “The first thing was the weight loss, that’s really what I started with. As it turns out, that impacts your psychology, and you really start to go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time.”
But that’s just a start next is his dissent into Joker’s madness and violence.
Justifying Jokers Madness
Joaquin Phoenix said in an interview, “When I first read it, a lot of his behavior and actions I felt were despicable.” He explains, “There was manipulation and I felt he was self-pitying. But I recognized from my previous work with ‘You Were Never Really Here’ the signs of PTSD, and I saw that in certain moments he was in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. I recognized these signs that allowed me to think about him differently. It’s hard not to have sympathy for somebody who experienced that level of childhood trauma. For someone in that state, does it mean his actions make sense or are justified? Obviously not! But it allowed me to approach him with less judgment and more compassion than what I had when I first read the script.”
Todd’s Joker is a commentary on how society isn’t doing enough to nurture people with mental illnesses. There has been enough criticism about Joker linking mental illness to violence but the truth is
‘The movie makes us uncomfortable with ourselves and society at large.’
And art anyway is not supposed to comfort you. Its only purpose is to move you.
As Joker said, “Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”