FILM CORNER - How Joker Shows The Warning Signs of Potential Psychopaths
This column was originally written and published as a Libertarian View column for the Seguin Gazette on October 11, 2019 as "Be Aware of Warning Signs." With the fact of how the column was written, it is a pretty neutral column tackling a serious social issue that is, sadly, still seen today. The version of this column has been updated since its original publishing date.
In October 2019, the cinematic world was introduced to Joker, a standalone DC Comics film that features an origin story about the well-known Batman villain of the same name. Before its release, it gained controversy over the revealed details of how much more brutal and violent the film will be than any of the other films based on characters from DC Comics (as it did get an R rating from the MPAA), and how there were supposed threats that were discovered by law enforcement which caused so much concern that extra security was available at several theater chains (such as the Alamo Drafthouse, which is where I saw the film when it was released). Personally, I enjoyed the film for what it was: a much darker and brutal origin story for the Joker (who was played by Joaquin Pheonix).
Eventually, Joker went on to get nominated and win many awards, especially for its original score by Hildur Guðnadóttir and Pheonix's performance as Fleck. The film even became the first R-rated film to pass the billion-dollar mark worldwide at the box office, making it the sixth-highest grossing film of 2019, and (as of this post) the 31st highest grossing film of all time behind The Dark Knight Rises and before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
However, when I watched the film for the first time when it was released, I began to realize that there was more to this film than just another origin story for a comic book character. In fact, this film did something that I haven’t seen any medium do in years: show the warning signs of a potential psychopath. Now, with the controversies that surrounded it before its release, there was fear that people would copycat the brutal violence that is presented in the film. Without spoiling the film too much (and using more from the trailers than the film), we see Arthur Fleck (who eventually becomes the Joker) suffer from an unstable mental illness which causes him to laugh during inappropriate times. We also see him bullied and abused by different individuals. Why is this important? Let me use an example of a real tragedy that involved an actual psychopath.
On May 23, 2014, a young man by the name of Elliot Rodger stabbed three men to death in his apartment before driving Isla Vista where he struck seven people with his car (injuring them) and shot eleven people. Four of these people that were shot died from their wounds while seven of them were injured. After a standoff with law enforcement, he crashed his car into a parked vehicle before committing suicide. Before he went on his killing spree, he posted a video on YouTube revealing his intentions to kill innocent people as part of his “retribution” to “punish” those that he felt wronged him. Years after this horrible event, an anonymous source hacked into Rodger’s Google account to reveal private emails as well as an autobiographical manuscript (which he considered his manifesto) that revealed how he was bullied by classmates for being “mixed race,” neglected by his filmmaking father (who went into debt after making a failed religious documentary), and abused by his stepmother. It was then revealed that since he was unpopular with women, he threw coffee at as well as dumped drinks on couples in public, and even did several other incidents where he was aggressive towards innocent people. It was also revealed that he was prescribed medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that he refused to take.
There were many warning signs with Elliot Rodger, and yet nothing stopped him from killing seven innocent people and injuring fourteen. For anyone who has already seen Joker, they can say the same about what happens in the film: the warning signs were there. Yet, what do people focus on when tragedies happen? Anything but the warnings signs involving the perpetrator. People want to blame guns, violent videos games, violent movies, and music. Yet, they don’t take the time to look into the perpetrator’s personal life. In all honesty, this needs to change.