It’s so much more than a misunderstood being. It’s the story of a human being which is even more complex.
I’m not a film fanatic and I don’t know all the ins and outs. I took a film module last year so I feel I have a bit more gravity to my opinion but even still, not much. I haven’t watched all the Batman’s and no, I haven’t even watched The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger’s iconic performance all the way through (I’ve watched bits of it I haven’t been living under an actual rock). But I think for so many reasons that was such a great slate to have going into this film with. I wasn’t tied up in or down to the fantasies of the DC Universe, looking out for easter eggs dotted round. In my eyes it was very much this stand alone interpretation of a well known story. And it was bloody good.
It was uncomfortable to watch. Not just because of the content but also because of the pace. It doesn’t have the classic peak and trough climactic structure, it’s got multiple moments that could fit into that bracket and the ending doesn’t explain or resolve much – it’s the ultimate cliffhanger. And I loved it.
I think one of the things that has really stuck in my mind is just how surprised I was at how needed this film is right now. Mental Health. The stigma of the world that is chopping, it is changing and we have made so much progress but I think it’s still fair to say that it only goes so far. We’re becoming more comfortable in our public conscious of some mental health issues, those that we can relate to on some level or because we know someone else involved in it. But what about the extremities? What about the situations, the people, the conditions that haven’t quite entered this orbit of the public consciousness and are still isolated, still stigmatised? Still… feared.
The masks been ripped off
It says a lot that a fictional film and in fact a fantasy film has created this level of discussion over mental health in comparison to teen films that have tried to comment on it, for example, where the stories are arguably more realistic. And it’s completely fair to think realism is relatable. Relatable characters are perhaps believable ones. But what Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have done here is taken an unbelievable story with an unfathomable character and publicised the cruel reality of it. Let’s genuinely explore the humanity in the horror, the mental underpinning behind the murder. This is so much more than a DC comics film, so much more than a thriller, it’s a ‘what if?’ based on a story we know, a story that’s loved. And the mask’s been ripped off.
There’s a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from this film in that respect. You get the action and the climax but you also get the why. You get the meat on the bones and it’s so much more interesting and, in this case, important than the killing itself. Relating to the Joker is not something I think many people can fathom and even now I really struggle to. And yet, something gets you because there’s humanity there. These flashes of humanity no matter how muddied they are, are there. This film has another struggle because it’s dealing with such a villainised character and what characterises him also is his ‘mental instability’. That’s what’s scary about him – you don’t know what he’s doing or why and yet – they managed to reveal that in this film and still be terrifying. They’ve proved in this film that you can still make a character scary without villainising what makes them human which, in this case, is his mental health. But the light in which it’s presented allows the human to breathe and be seen amidst the other.
Mental illness isn’t inhuman. And it’s not villainous.
It’s very easy to categorise and believe as humans that what we are used to and is within the boundaries of ‘normal’ is also human. Base human and anything that veers off this course isn’t really as ‘human’. That’s a common pattern but a dangerous one, one that stigmatises and it needs to stop. This film is an excellent opening to ideas and discussions that most people don’t want to have. But we need to make sure that this doesn’t die out. Keep having those conversations, even if it starts with a film. The spectrum of what’s human is developing and the boundaries are crumbling but blockbuster films aren’t going to do all the work. It’s putting it into practice in real life – treatment and interactions can have some of the biggest impact.