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Joker, more than an origin story

A dark psychological thriller, Joker explores Batman’s archnemesis like never before. Released in late 2019 and directed by Todd Philips, Joker delivers a highly entertaining origin story for the fascinating DC comic book character, while also touching on issues surrounding mental illness.

The film was nominated for 11 Oscars at the recent 92nd Academy Awards, with Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) taking out the award for Best Actor, as well as Hildur Guðnadóttir winning the category for Best Original Score.

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Set in the 1980s, the film follows Arthur Fleck (Joker) who resides in the well-known fictional crime-ridden Gotham City. Arthur, who lives with his mother Penny (Frances Convoy), works as a party clown and aspires to become a stand-up comedian. The character is hindered by pathological laughter, a condition that results in him bursting out in laughter uncontrollably, often at inappropriate times. He also has an unspecified mental illness and prior to the film, resided in a psychiatric ward and now relies solely on social services to receive medication and treatment for his conditions.

Arthur and his mother regularly find joy out of watching The Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) talk show. He is also shown to have feelings for his neighbour and single mother Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beets).

The character is gifted a gun for protection early in the film by work colleague Randall (Glen Fleshler) after he was assaulted at work. However, while performing at a children’s hospital, Arthur accidentally reveals the concealed weapon, subsequently resulting in the character losing his job. Soon after, he experiences another traumatic event and on returning to his counselor, Arthur learns that the funding for social services has been cut, leaving him on his own without treatment or medication. This sets off a chain of events that sees the character transform into the Joker.

In addition to the Joker, the film features other notable characters featured in the Batman universe, including Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) (although a far less friendlier version of Thomas, than what is portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins), a young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) and Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge), the Wayne family’s famous butler.

While the film delivers a live-action origin story for the DC villain, there are also strong messages related to current issues surrounding mental health. Both the Joker and his mother have mental illnesses and the movie delivers a confronting take on the lives of those who are rejected by society, through Arthur’s transformation into the Joker.

Arthur, while already unwell having experienced childhood trauma, deteriorates further once he loses access to treatment. This is a powerful message and is very relevant to today’s society, emphasising the need to ensure every individual can gain access to support, regardless of their social status. Governments around the world should become inspired by the film to put more funding into the mental health industry.

One issue with the film is that viewers could interpret all people with mental illness as violent or evil. This is far from the truth as most people with mental illness rarely commit acts of violence. This is an important fact that needs to be well publicised when breaking down the stigma towards mental illnesses.

Overall Joker is a cinematic masterpiece, with Joaquin Phoenix deservedly winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his incredible performance. The film while confronting, challenges your perceptions and will have you questioning what was real, and what was fiction. I would highly recommend to comic books fans and the general public alike.

Readers seeking support and information about mental health can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. 

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