No jokes, let's take mental health seriously

Thank God Joker isn't for real but then many gun-toting elements like the Joker have come and gone, threatening to destroy humanity.



by

Abhishek Sengupta

Published: Sun 13 Oct 2019, 10:35 PM

Last updated: Tue 1 Sep 2020, 5:04 PM

Small communities around the world marked World Mental Health Day on Thursday (October 10) - a day meant to particularly raise awareness against the social stigma associated with those not necessarily 'in the right frame of mind'.
The bad news is that few recognise the problem, a lot less understand its an affliction and a handful actually care about another person's supposed mental disorder.
In fact, it wouldn't have even got me writing about this had I not watched Hollywood's latest big flick Joker just the night before. I may have been about a week late in going to the cinema but in hindsight catching Joaquin Phoenix' stunning portrayal of Arthur Fleck tearing into his city as a painted 'mad man' after years of being ignored and bullied by people around him, couldn't have been better timed.
Everybody loves a joke or two but no one likes it when it gets real, ugly, and dark.
That's precisely why the movie has divided houses and opinions in its second week even as it grossed over $300 million already - almost six times the cost at which this 'origin story' was made by Todd Phillips.
Let's just put everything aside for once and talk about Fleck, a mentally-ill, impoverished single man living in a rundown apartment in Gotham City with his frail old mother, who is also single. A failed party clown, he aspires to be a stand-up comedian but is constantly snubbed and mistreated to an extent that he is forced to admit: "It's funny, when I was a little boy, and told people I was going to be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well, no one's laughing now."
Does that raise an alarm and make us worried sick? Not as long as the joke's not on us and so long as it's another fall guy who's taking all the stick. We are okay until, of course, that fall guy - Fleck in this case - decides enough is enough and chooses to transform his history of abuse and fractured upbringing into a chillingly cold-blooded, trigger-happy criminal. Enter the Joker, one of comic world's most charismatic villains with a warped sense of humour and that's when you know that either the joke has begun to turn dank and sour or that it wasn't really a joke after all.
To play his part of a deranged, nihilistic villain, Phoenix apparently lost 24 kilos or so in preparation and based his disquieting laughter on "videos of people suffering from pathological laughter." To fit into his 'reel life' role, he read up about political assassinations so he could understand killers and their motivations. But when the mind is not in the right place for whatever reason, anything can be a motivation and everything a rationale. The Joker was a mental patient at that and was on seven different kinds of prescribed medications. "I killed those guys because they were awful. Everybody is awful these days. It's enough to make anyone crazy," Fleck tells Gotham's famous talk show host Murray Franklin, played by Robert de Niro, while defending the subway murder of three Wall Street executives - his first victims. Soon after, still live on TV with cameras rolling and a house full of audience; Fleck shoots Franklin point blank as if it were a part of his own script of his very own dark comedy. "Comedy is subjective, Murray. All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what's right or wrong. The same way that you decide what's funny or not," he had told Franklin just moments before while getting into fits of uncontrollable, wheezing laughter almost always completely out of sync with the world around him yet a characteristic that's come to define the Joker and his inimitability over years.
Despite all the aura of devilish invincibility he builds in his crazed madness, Joker even contemplates suicide once, hoping his life "made more cents than his death." Yet he resists ending his life and instead takes up the gun several times over, triggering a movement in which hundreds of fanatics let themselves loose behind painted faces. Liberated madcaps dance on streets with guns in hand, Gotham descends into anarchy and humanity is in danger. And one crazed man who the world failed to listen to when he had jokes to tell is behind it all.
Thank God Joker isn't for real but then many gun-toting elements like him have come and gone, threatening to destroy humanity. All they needed perhaps in their sanity was some attention and two patient ears!
- abhishek@khaleejtimes.com


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