The ‘Joker’ within us all

Brazilian psychologist and psychotherapist, Flavio Cordeiro shares his thoughts after watching the film: Joker…

I watched Joker this weekend. It had been a long time since I came out of such a troubled movie. I believe this is one of the main functions of art: to disturb, to wake us up. The mechanism of the nightmares is more or less the same. Nightmares wake us up with an issue that needs to be addressed, or it will continue to haunt us all night long. Art, sometimes with beauty and emotion, bothers us for the same reason: it presents us with an indigestible subject that, as a society, we need to deal with. Joker is certainly indigestible.

Joker does not speak of a madman; It speaks of the process of madness that an insane society is capable of producing through the daily massacre it imposes on its most fragile members. Therefore, it speaks of all of us. Interestingly, on Saturday morning, before deciding to buy tickets for the movie, I re-read, somewhat haphazardly, “The Politics of Experience,” by Ronald Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote: 

 “In Britain at the moment there are about 60,000 men and women in mental health institutions. A child born in Britain today has ten times more opportunities to join a mental health institution than a university. This can be considered a sign that we are driving our children crazy far more effectively than we are raising them well. Maybe it’s our own way of educating them that drives them crazy.” (Laing 1967)

As I watched the Joker dance at the movie, those words hammered in my head, and I found myself wondering: How many Joker’s were built in these five decades that separate Laing’s writings from today?

While medicine and science continue to pursue a supposed organic origin for madness, Laing confronts us with an important question: How is madness a social product? Neglect, contempt, abuse, humiliation, endemic poverty, continuous exposure to violence; These are all social aspects involved in the process of going mad. They are all Gotham City products.

Jung, who was a psychiatrist at the largest psychiatric hospital in Switzerland at a time when the psychiatrist lived with his family at the hospital, says that if we take the trouble to listen carefully and attentively to that mentally ill person, the speech that seems absurd, suddenly acquires a meaning. In discovering meaning in the meaningless, there is a more human approach to that person who suffers from the same human problems as us, and, according to Jung, “he is nowhere near a disordered brain machine,” so he goes on: “We come to recognize in madness just an unusual reaction to emotional problems that belong to all of us. ”

What is inferred from Jung’s view is that there is a Joker far nearer to us than we suppose or would like to admit, simply because, being human, we are all exposed to the potentially maddening environment of the Gotham Cities we have created. I am not referring to the character’s outbursts of violence in the movie, but rather to the fact that the overwhelming social reality is capable of making life so unbearable as to undermine the psychological integrity of the individual.

The film shows an individual who violently retaliates with the same violence and humiliation he repeatedly suffers. But in real life, the mad almost never fight back, they get sick; their delirium is their way of dealing with the absurdity of Gotham City’s unspoiled scenery. On the contrary, it is the so-called “normal” people who violate the most and who endorse institutionalized violence.

Argentine psychiatrist Alfredo Moffatt says that in 30 years of work in therapeutic workshops with schizophrenic patients, he has never witnessed an episode of violence. He says: “fools are good people, they are peaceful,” the same cannot be said of “normal.” On the so-called “normal”, I return to the word of Ronald Laing: “The ‘normally alienated’ person, because he acts more or less like the others, it is considered healthy because society values the normal man highly. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their normal counterparts in the last fifty years. ”

It is not a matter of glorifying madness, which is one of the most serious conditions of human suffering, but of reflecting about the so called “normality” concept, as Gotham City and its “normal” citizens produce ‘Joker’s’. Arthur Fleck’s agonizing transformation into the Joker reminded me of an old phrase by Indian thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti: “It is not a sign of health to be well adapted to a sick society.”

While the Joker dances, Gotham City goes crazy.