Oct 30

“Joker”: Views of Several Forensic Psychiatrists

Joaquin Phoenix‘s Joker, or Arthur Fleck, is depicted as a man mentally ill, though not specifically diagnosed, who becomes quite violent. Moreover, according to Callie Ahlgrim, Insider, “he names his mental illness as a specific motivation for violence at the end of his climactic monologue, which sounds like the movie’s thesis statement.”

However, as presented in a previous post, “Gun Violence and Mental Illness: The True Relationship,” psychiatrist Gordon Livingston concluded that “(t)he only real predictor of future violence in anyone turns out to be a past history of violent behavior.” Most people with mental illness are not violent.

Similarly, Gabrielle Bruney, Esquire, states, “There are two characters in the film [Joker] who undergo treatment for mental illness, and each inflicts serious harm to others. Meanwhile, in real life, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.”

In lieu of having to watch the violence of Joker myself, below are excerpted quotes from several psychiatric professionals who’ve weighed in with explanations about Arthur as well as some of the film’s misleading messages:

I. Forensic psychiatrist Ziv Ezra Cohen, New York Daily News:

Research shows that people who commit mass shootings in the vast majority of cases do not have a clear mental illness that would explain their behavior. In addition, just 1% of gun violence is attributable to mental illness.

He does not show symptoms of delusions or a thought disorder that one would see in an illness like schizophrenia. He does not show the impulsiveness that one sees in many personality disorders and in bipolar disorder. He is cold, calculating, ruthless. A term we use in psychiatry to describe such people is psychopath.

However, even if we label him a psychopath, we still are not explaining why this particular psychopath behaves in this particular way, as opposed to, say, becoming a white-collar criminal. In addition, many persons who do much good for society have “psychopathic traits,” such as some surgeons, bomb sappers and intelligence officers. Why do they become “good psychopaths” as opposed to “evil ones”?

II. Forensic psychiatrists Vasilis K. Pozios. Philip Saragoza, and Praveen Kambam, in Hollywood Reporter:

...(T)he sympathy engendered through Arthur’s struggles with mental illness becomes conflated with a more problematic understanding of the violence he exacts against those who have wronged him. Fleck’s turn to violence is meant to elicit disdain for the character as his underlying psychopathic traits become more prominent; however, Joker achieves rock-star status because of his violence…Paradoxically, Phoenix’s Joker seems more organized in thought and appearance the more distant from treatment and the more violent he becomes.

Arthur Fleck’s character arc echoes an unfortunately familiar scenario: a lonely, traumatized individual with emotional problems (insecurity, anger, shame, hopelessness) and limited intrinsic or external resources experiences a series of losses, disappointments and insults. All of this leads to his cultivation of a grievance culminating in exacting retribution towards those he holds responsible for his plight — a process known in the practice and science of targeted violence prevention as the “pathway to violence.”

Although people with untreated mental illness have some increased risk of violence against others relative to the general population, this typically occurs in very specific situations such as when an individual experiences persecutory delusions and acts in perceived self-defense. This risk is still low compared to that attributable to other more common violence risk factors like substance use and being a member of the male sex.

Jan 12

“The End of the F***ing World”: In 8 Episodes

The End of the F***ing World Isn’t Nearly As Bleak As It Looks. Jen Chaney, Vulture

Well, without the italics, it probably would be as bleak as it looks. But with italics it’s just a great Netflix series that caught my attention via a review headline.

The End of the F***ing World turns out to be a very binge-able eight episodes, of 20-ish minutes each, about bonded misfit teens James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Darden).

So, what’s their deal? As you read the following series intro from Rob Lowman (Los Angeles Daily News), keep Sophie Gilbert‘s words (The Atlantic) in mind: it’s “a surprising tour de force, mashing up the pitch-black humor of British alternative comedies with the visual punch of an auteur-driven indie film.” Pitch-black humor, of course, is not for everyone’s tastes.

James and Alyssa are your average 17 year-olds, except James really wants to kill someone and Alyssa is about to blow at any moment.
When they meet, Alyssa, who is struggling with manic depression, says this about James, ‘I’m not saying he’s the answer, but he’s something.’ James sees her as somebody who would be ‘interesting to kill,’ so he pretends to be into her.

James, you see, thinks he may be a psychopath—and has valid reasons to think so that he’ll illustrate for you in quite brief but stomach-churning scenes.

Sonia Saraiya, Variety, notes additionally that both James and Alyssa are “full of fury: At their parents; at their stupid small town; at the other idiots in their school.”

More from Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter, about where and how this all goes:

The End swings wildly between deadpan hilarious, shockingly violent and a sweetness that’s occasionally just as shocking. It’s not a tone that will hit with every viewer, but you’ll know pretty quickly how much you’re able to forgive, much less embrace, and then The End keeps pushing into murkier and murkier complications. Nothing in the narrative is all that surprising. What’s satisfying is how even the outlandishness is grounded in the two main characters and defended through extensive and candid internal monologues that serve as counterpoint to the characters’ halting getting-to-know-you conversations.

Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast: “For all their coldness and cynicism, both clearly just want to feel and to experience. There’s a sort of blanket sadness and compassion surrounding both characters, which is an interesting antidote to their saltiness and reckless behavior.”

Importantly, we do learn more about each teen’s upbringing and how they came to be where they are. Saraiya: “…(W)hat emerges is a portrait of two characters who find in each other a refuge from an uncaring and often cruel world. Our teenagers can be violent, but as the show makes clear, violence has also been heaped upon them…”

Do you think you now get the gist of this series? If not, you’re not alone. “The best thing about ‘The End of the F***ing World’ is that it’s hard to describe,” notes Saraiya. “It’s funny, and it’s sweet; it’s violent, and it’s romantic. Its leads are both reprehensible and totally sympathetic; both scared kids and responsible adults.”

In addition to garnering much enthusiasm from viewers, including an 8.5 on IMDB, The End also has a phenomenal retro soundtrack featuring songs from a wide variety of genres.

Wanna know how it all winds up for James and Alyssa? Just look at the title, says Jen Chaney in the aforementioned Vulture review. “[It] tells us pretty clearly,” she states, “that this show won’t have a happy ending. But even in its tragic moments, there are still glimmers of loveliness in The End of the F***ing World. You just have to be patient, and watch closely, to fully see them.”