See Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar speech here.
I went in hoping my mind and nervous system were ready to see “Joker.”
What I was not prepared for, was to see how the Joker beautifully illustrates that the descent into madness can not only be easy, but effortless.
“Joker” is the punchline we need right now in this world. It displays how the dismantling of one’s false beliefs can lead to the becoming of one’s true self—ultimately choosing our shadow over the light. Joaquin Phoenix brilliantly portrays how being raised by a psychotic, narcissistic parent and a life lived of repressed childhood abuse can lead to the patterns of isolation, bullying, and repeated adult traumas. Combine all of this with low socioeconomic status and the result is total destruction of self. Allowing the shadow of himself to take over completely, engulfing every part of his being into pure insanity.
“I’ve got nothing left to lose.”
A phrase some of us, including myself, have uttered. However, what tips the scales that some of us to go into the void of violent chaos—while others heal and thrive? The answer is complicated at best, and not merely a choice. One cannot heal or choose a different life without support of some kind and access to proper mental healthcare.
The Joker may have descended into madness but he was the product of his family, political climate, society, and the beliefs based on lies that distorted his reality. When you are fed lies your entire life by someone you trust, you will believe those as the truth. The lies become your truths. It was all the Joker ever knew his entire life: lies, abuse, and isolation.
As the Joker effortlessly danced to the music in his head, in addition to the delusions he played out in his mind and the illusions of life, you could see his wounded child. The battered child begging for help, to be cared for, to feel safe, and, most of all, seen and heard. Instead he was ignored by all and treated without worth.
The masks the Joker wears are not that different from our own. “Smile and put on a happy face.” How many times have you been told this in your life, and by whom? I can guarantee we’ve all been told this to a certain degree by someone close to us. We may not don a clown mask at our job or a happy smile to fit in with friends and society at large, but we sure as hell put on masks in order to hide our pain.
The Joker lived his life in a state of victimhood, where he was continually beaten, made fun of, and treated less than by society and his own mother. As he took off his false masks he turned his haunting pain into annihilation of self, and in the end—the city itself. He became a hero in his own mind, and to those who had finally had enough. He was the people’s nudge forward. He may have cocked the hammer of the gun but he wasn’t the only one pulling the trigger. His family, society, and the traumas that ran through him squeezed his mind hard enough to start firing the gun.
This is the very reason why I have always found the Joker the scariest of all the villains. His moral and ethical compass points to the unknown, and under just the right combination of circumstances, we could have all just as easily become him.
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