By Evan Whatley and Rayyan Ahmad
With the hit release of the DC Comics “villain origin story”, Joker is climbing Box Office charts, currently sitting as the 7th top grossing film of 2019 according to IMDb. This R-rated movie follows the story of Arthur Fleck, a troubled man with multiple mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and pseudobulbar affect — a medical condition that causes the patient to erupt into uncontrollable bursts of laughing and crying at random times.
The depiction of these illnesses lead to much disorientation as to what exactly is happening in the movie, leaving many viewers confused by the end of the film. As Maximillian Dail, GHS Freshman says “I saw the movie last weekend and thought it was great, but at the same time it was a little confusing to understand what was really happening in the movie versus what was happening in Arthur Fleck’s head.” With many aspects of Joker crossing the lines between fiction and the real world, reality blends with fabrication created by Fleck’s mind.
In the film Arthur Fleck is poverty stricken, having to take care of his sick mother, Penny, by making ends meet as a clown-for-hire. His mental illnesses, along with him being in the infamous Gotham City which is notorious for gang violence and government corruption, leads Fleck to have many troubles that seem to worsen his outlook of the world, inevitably pushing him to the brink.
Arthurs change becomes apparent when he is spinning a sign outside on a street, resulting in him being harassed by several children who steal his sign and smash it on his face. When Arthur recovers from the beatdown, he returns to the store only to have his boss blame the broken sign on him and force him to pay for it. This is where viewers first see through Arthur’s broken mind, as the scene cuts to him behind an alley kicking and stomping on his bosses face in anger and frustration.
The film takes a dark turn when a coworker gives Arthur a handgun for “his own protection”. Then Arthur decides goes to perform a show at a children’s hospital where during his act the gun falls out of his pocket. Huzaifa Naroo, GHS Junior who has seen the movie twice says, “I still can’t get over how CRAZY the hospital scene was, the director did a great job combining the suspense of Joker having a handgun in a hospital with the humor in the act that he was performing for children. That tension had me on the edge of my seat.” This scene along with many others throughout the film show the severity of the mental illnesses that plague Arthur. Obviously Fleck gets fired for this and his day gets worse, while he rides the subway home a trio of rich Wall Street Traders assault him for laughing uncontrollably and dressing like a clown.
This is when a major change occurs in Arthur Flecks mind, one that affects his future decisions in the film: he decides to actually fight back. With the handgun from his coworker, he gets up and immediately shoots two of the traders. Then he gets up, chases after the third and delivers the final blow to him too. With police surrounding the subway station to track the killer , Arthur escapes in a crowd of people and celebrates his kills by dancing in a public restroom.
The troubled Arthur gains more confidence with the three kills under his belt, leading to a relationship in his personal life with his neighbor, Sophie Dumond. Arthur takes her to a diner and even invites her to a comedy stand-up routine he has prepared at a local bar. This routine goes by poorly as a result of his own laughter making it so he could not even complete a single joke. “The bar scene where Arthur was going to perform his routine and a little sad,” says Gavin Cronkite, a Junior at GHS, “ I felt bad for the guy, he just wanted to be a TV star like his idol, Murray Franklin, but with his disease he just could not.” Even though his routine was a big fail, Arthur was recognized by his idol the late night talk show host, Murray Franklin who ridicules his entire act in front of millions of viewers on national TV. Then the show producers invites him on with Franklin, because the clip was viral and many enjoyed it.
Now Arthur faces another problem, because he now has no job and no money, but Arthur’s mother Penny delivers a shock. She tells Arthur that she once worked at Wayne Enterprises, and if Thomas Wayne, local politician running for governor knew of their situation, he would financially support them. After this surprising revelation, Arthur, curious to know the truth, stumbles upon a letter written by Penny to Thomas Wayne explaining that Arthur is his son. With this surprising revelation, Arthur runs to find the truth, confronting Thomas in the men’s bathroom of a movie theatre. Thomas plainly disproves the statement claiming he never had the relationship with Penny and that Arthur was actually adopted. For comfort, he goes to Sophie’s apartment to ask her opinion only to find a surprising sight: Sophie is scared of him, asking who he was and why he entered her home. Then, a flashback occurs, at the diner and the comedy routine, but with a slight difference; now Sophie is not there. This leads many viewers to conclude Arthur’s subconscious, messed up brain created a figment of Sophie, and he had imagined there entire relationship.
This wrecks Arthurs already broken world, and to find the real truth of his parents he escapes to Arkham Asylum and steals his personal file. In the file, Arthur learns the real truth: he was adopted by Penny and her boyfriend and abused by them, which was the main cause of his mental illnesses. This leads an enraged Arthur to confront his mother, and when she admits the truth, suffocate her with a pillow.
Now Arthur falls into an identity crisis: he is not a Wayne, he is not a Fleck, the only thing he has to look forward to is his upcoming show with Murray Franklin. There he plans to kill himself to become a martyr for the uprising against Gotham’s wealthy. When he finally comes on, he dresses as a clown as this is the only identity that he has, one that is known throughout Gotham, one where he feels empowered and his life has meaning. He confronts Franklin, accusing him and many others of manipulating the social system making people like him the “clowns” of the network.
With that speech, he turns the gun on on Murray Franklin, and shoots him as the cameras flip away, igniting the final straw that thrusts all of Gotham into a warzone against the rich and privileged. In all the pandemic, Joker escapes in a van with his new supporters. Later that night, Thomas Wayne and his family walk out of an opera only to be confronted by a supporter of Joker, who kills Thomas and his wife, Martha and leaving there only son, Bruce an orphan…. “The new Joker changed up the future of DC Comics, rewriting and adding more information to the infamous day that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed,” says Roggen King, Junior at GHS. The new Joker movie ties together many missing facts from the past, while also changing outcomes in the future for these movies.
The Joker was encompassed by many mental illnesses including, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, PTSD, and pseudobulbar affect. He was an abused child, a young adopted boy, and a sufferer of diseases sadly common to millions of people around the globe. According to Mental Health America, “From 2012 to 2017, the prevalence of past-year Major Depressive Episode (MDE) increased from 8.66 percent to 13.01 percent of youth ages 12-17. Now, over two million youth have MDE with severe impairment.” Teens suffer highly from depression and mental diseases. Many teens relate their mental health and stresses to school. Glenelg Junior, Benjamin Heigh stated, “Sometimes schoolwork piles up and can be a huge stressor for students like me, who does other extracurriculars. If unleft, this work can lead to major stress in some teens.” In Joker when bad things continue to pile up the downward spiral of Arthur Fleck is similar to the downward spiral many teens may have after long hours at school with their work.
The struggle with mental health is a growing problem each year in the United States and in the world. The pressures of life and the constant medical problems people suffer through need to be addressed in order to prevent the globe from being affected by symptoms that have also plagued Joker.