April 4, 2020

Joker Sparks Conversation

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Swansea Regal Cinemas erupted with applause as the ending credits for ‘Joker’ began to crawl down the screen. The last two hours and two minutes had offered the audience a glimpse into the mind of one of the most terrifying, deranged, and controversial characters our society has ever spat out.

The character, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is a middle-aged man name Arthur Fleck who’s living in Gotham with his single mother. Arthur’s eventual manifestation into the Joker chronicled throughout the film has sparked a nationwide discussion about mental health and violence.

Arthur is suffering from two problems that are becoming prevalent in our country. Mental Health issues and a lack of resources to acquire the appropriate help.

When Marsha Hood, a Clinical Therapist based out of Rehoboth, Massachusetts who has been practicing for over 20 years, first heard about Arthur she immediately recognized his real-world reflection. Arthur struggled with isolation, a theme that continues to reoccur in individuals who commit mass murder. The shooters who committed atrocities at Park, EL Paso, and Dayton were all described as “loners” by their respective communities, a verdict that has been echoed for years in the wake of these tragedies. Hood expressed the dangers of isolation that can have an extremely negative affect on people struggling with mental health.

“I don’t think there’s a much worse feeling than true, deep loneliness.” the Therapist said. The loneliness Arthur felt throughout the film played a major role in his eventual somersault into chaos and violence.

The only real contact Arthur had in the outside world was with his social worker whose office is eventually defunded leaving Arthur helpless in solving his mental health problems. This, in turn, has created a surge of conversation relating to access to mental health resources across the country. Studies conducted in 2018 by the National Council for Behavioral Health indicate that 38% of American adults looking for mental health resources had to wait over a week while 21% said they couldn’t even get access due to reasons beyond their control.

“We have a system that is so limited in mental health access, especially for people that are poor.” Hood said. The study backing up her words as a disproportionate amount of those unable to gain access hail from low-income households. She continued and explained how some of her clients must pay deductibles as high as $5,000 and copayments that can reach $40. This poses the question; how can someone like Arthur afford prices that high?

A lack of mental health resources is incredibly dangerous for a country that’s seen a 33% rise in the national suicide rate over the past two decades. Rates of depression in the country have skyrocketed and there have been 2,290 mass shootings that have taken place on American soil since the Sandy Hook took place.

Theater goers who were moved by the film expressed how they felt the film helped create a conversation that could spark action to decrease these numbers.
“When it comes to mental health, I feel that the culture is really lagging behind the rhetoric. We know something must be done, but we’re not doing enough.” said Calvin Reddington. “I felt the film did a good job of reminding people this is still a huge problem.”

The film shows that without the proper resources, Arthur shrunk farther from the world feeling more isolated. His search for validation leads him down a dark path that is becoming followed by more and more individuals. Too often that path ends in violence.

“We have to, as a society, look out for people like Arthur.” stated Zachary Pereira when asked what he took away from the film.

While controversy may have surrounded the film's release its legacy may prove to be the spark it created around our discourse about mental health and violence in our country.

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