Joker: A Poor Misrepresentation of Mental Illness


Joaquin Phoenix stars in Joker, released in theaters on October 4.

Riley Goodwin

On October 4, one of the most highly anticipated movies yet this year, Joker, directed and produced by Todd Phillips, was released into theaters worldwide. In its first weekend, the infamous origin story of Batman’s Arch Nemesis, Joker, grossed a whopping $93.5 million in the US alone.

The insanely dark but compelling film, within the first night of its premiere, sparked some very heavy controversies about the way Joker’s mental health illnesses are portrayed. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian and children’s clown, seeks to find the meaning of life in the grim city of Gotham. Being diagnosed and treated with many mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, sociopathy and more, we are shown that his painted-on smile doesn’t match his feelings on the inside. Being taunted, isolated and bullied by society, the film shows us Joker’s slow, unsettling descent to madness.

But could the portrayal of these mental illnesses lead to future fear for people uneducated on the topics around mental health? Well, the answer to this question is yes. In 2001, the World Health Organization reported that approximately 450 million individuals worldwide suffer from some form of mental health disorder, and 10.8 million of those individuals happen to be high school students. Yes, that’s right, many students all over the world, including individuals in our very own Downingtown West High School, suffer from mental illness, myself included. Some of our classmates are even diagnosed with many of the same disorders the Joker is portrayed to have. Although many of the scenes in the movie are rightfully portrayed as what many people live with across this nation every day, there are many scenes that have very negative connotations and may lead viewers to believe that individuals with these very illnesses can hurt or kill someone at any moment, making it scary for people and especially teenagers to think about during school.

Dylan Raymond (’20) stated: “It’s crazy that anyone from this school could just snap one day; we wouldn’t have a clue what was coming for us or what was going through their head at all.” To be fair, he is very correct: it’s absolutely terrifying to think about scenarios like that; however, in reality, the chances of things like that aren’t common.

Mental health is a spectrum. People with mental health disorders, even those with the same diagnoses as the fictional Joker, are not going to necessarily endure the same symptoms. One individual could have a specific symptom that someone else with the same disorder doesn’t. Many people won’t endure any of the same symptoms as someone else with the same disorder. Every single human brain is wired and set up differently, no two are the same, and each one is unique in its own way. The thought that every mental health disorder is going to affect each person, in the same way, is unreasonable.

As we all know, Downingtown West High School has a strong focus on mental health and keeping a healthy mindset. Being educated on mental health is extremely important so that when films come out widely revolving around the topic, your view is never changed by the way it is perceived. But no matter what disorders you may have or how they may affect you daily, mental illness does not and never will define a person. Individuals should never be feared or discriminated against for what they may be going through at the moment.

As your friendly reminder, always make sure to check up on your classmates/peers; you never know what their situations could be like. Small gestures such as just asking if someone is okay or if they need to talk can help people maintain a healthy mindset and stay positive — it could even save their life.