Is Batman mentally insane

The film "Joker" misunderstands that when it comes to mental illness

Warner Bros.

  • The film "Joker" sparked a debate about mental illness.
  • According to the psychiatrist Ziv Cohen, a lot is true in the film - but a lot is not. “Joker” reinforces the false prejudice that there is a connection between mental illness and violence.
  • "I think the character of the Joker forces us to grapple with this innate human capacity for evil, which is ultimately inexplicable and which is successfully explored in art."
  • You can find more articles from Business Insider here.

Since the film was released a week ago, the character of the "Joker" played by Joaquin Phoenix has polarized the audience. Critics rate the film either as brilliantly provocative or as irresponsible in a time of accumulating rampages. But most of all, it sparked a discussion about sanity.

Ziv Cohen, criminal psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornwell University, specializes in violence, psychopathy, and other toxic personality disorders. He explains to Insider that the film portrays the lack of resources and ignorance about mental health in our society quite well - but still portrays a lot of things wrong.

A wrong connection between mental illness and violence

"Joker" tells the story of Arthur Fleck, who turns into a violent criminal after he has felt unjustly ostracized by society. The film tries to explain how a man who was once insane became the most notorious villain in the Batman saga.

Cohen says he is concerned that this genesis will add to the stigma that already exists about mental illness. It is particularly problematic to diagnose “bad” characters who do wrong things, as this reinforces the false stereotype that there is a link between mental illness and violence.

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"Research clearly shows that people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population," he said. "In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than to commit them."

The "Joker" as a character is extremely complex; Anyone who tries to make a diagnosis must inevitably reduce it to a few properties.

"Living characters like humans can never be reduced to a simple diagnosis," he explained. “For example, if we label someone in psychiatry as 'bipolar', it doesn't mean that we are reporting on the most interesting thing about that person. It's just one aspect of that person. He seldom fully explains their behavior. ”Cohen does not believe the Joker meets the diagnostic criteria for mental illness or disorders that sometimes, if rarely, explain illegal behavior.

Here are two examples of mental disorders the Joker doesn't have:

Schizophrenia. This is a serious mental illness in which people have abnormal thinking that prevents them from thinking clearly or logically; delusions of believing things that are not true; and negative symptoms, such as a lack of motivation to get involved in something productive. "Obviously the Joker doesn't fit into this shape," says Cohen. “He is a very clear thinker, can come up with incredibly complex, finely tuned malignancies, is highly motivated, and is able to interact (manipulate) with others at a very high level. In addition, he shows no signs of delusions. "

Bipolar disorder. It is characterized by "manic" and "depressive" episodes. When the person is in a manic episode, he or she becomes incredibly energetic and impulsive, speaks fast, and becomes excessive in many things. This can mean that he or she is having a lot of sex or spending huge sums of money. "In contrast, the Joker shows excellent self-control," says Cohen. “He can be quick when he has to, but he can also control his behavior and act as it suits him. That is not at all compatible with bipolar disorder. "

Even the term “psychopath” doesn't necessarily apply to “Joker”

Psychopathy is not an official diagnosis, but basically fulfills the criteria of an antisocial personality disorder.

Like many personality traits, psychopathy is a spectrum. An estimated one to two percent of men and 0.3 to 0.7 percent of women in the world population are true psychopaths. The rest of us are lower on the scale.

Psychopathy is associated with charm, manipulation, numbness, and the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong without caring about the rules in practice. In short: a psychopath cannot empathize with other people and only acts on his own impulses. He is only guided by his own calculated decisions that secure his own advancement.

Also read: I have examined children with psychopathic traits - they cannot recognize this emotion

Psychopathy is sometimes confused with "criminally crazy," says Cohen. For example, Hannibal Lecter was held in a mental hospital under the supervision of a psychiatrist. "But if a person is a psychopath, he or she is not mentally ill - except in a philosophical sense," he adds.

“We can argue philosophically that someone who deliberately disregards morality is acting“ crazy ”. You can say that when their behavior is completely at odds with everything most people believe and the rules by which society works. But from a psychiatric point of view, these people do not have a disease. Psychopathy is a personality trait. "

Cohen says the "Joker" could be viewed as a psychopath, but that too is probably too simplistic. Psychopaths succeed in some of the most challenging career paths, such as law, medicine, and business leadership, because they are able to keep a cool head under stress. Most of the time, they do this without murdering anyone.

"Some of the greatest crimes in human history have been committed by people who have not been mentally ill or psychopathic in their daily lives," says Cohen. "I think the character of the Joker forces us to grapple with this innate human capacity for evil, which is ultimately inexplicable and which is successfully explored in art."