First off, I think this is a great film. The 2019 American psychological thriller Joker which was directed by Todd Phillips and co-written by Scott Silver is one movie that makes you think deeply about society and some of the true causes of violence and group anger. This movie can be interpreted in many different ways and honestly can make you forget that it has anything to do with the superhero universe. It is gritty and realistic. Joaquin Phoenix the lead character gives an amazing performance, just as everyone has been raving.
Now, on to my actual thoughts and feelings. The first 3/4 of the movie or so is just incredibly sad. I was actually relieved when it started turning to senseless violence because it was a break from the sadness, even though you knew the violence stemmed from that abuse and pain shown in the earlier parts of the movie. My heart ached for this man’s mistreatment at the hands of others all his life, partly because I have also experienced abuse and trauma for much of my life.
This movie brought to the surface many questions I have asked myself my entire life about accountability and assigning fault. In the Joker’s case, he has obvious mental health issues, seems to have suffered severe brain damage as a child, and would likely score sky-high on the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test. The brain damage, trauma, and abuse together may have not allowed this man to have any other kind of ending than the tragic one we see.
Think of it this way, we know that trauma can dramatically change an adult’s personality (think of veterans with PTSD). We also know that brain damage as an adult can make a kind, loving person cruel and abusive (think of athletes who have suffered severe brain damage and underwent entire personality shifts). Now, imagine these things happening to the brain of a child while the child’s brain is still developing. Also, imagine that the child doesn’t get medical care for the injury or illness quickly as the athlete or veteran hopefully would, so there is no hope of minimizing damage or healing appropriately. How much damage can that do to the child’s brain and personality?
It also makes me think about family legacies where abuse, malignant personality disorders, and mental illness have reigned for generations (much like my own family and probably Joker’s from what little we can see in the film). I’m fairly positive that most of my “ill” family members developed their personality disorders in very early childhood as is believed to be the case in psychology. From childhood, they never developed empathy the way they should have. They never grew out of the petulance of the 2-3-year-old attitude. Although they seemed terrifying to me when I was a child, I almost feel sorry for them now because they are permanently stuck in immaturity.
I wish they showed empathy, but I ask myself how I can expect someone to show something that they have never had. How can I really ask them to be something they could not be even if they wanted to be? Some might think this way of thinking is defeatist, but I simply see it as realistic. It does help keep my hopes from getting too high only to be dashed yet again.