Ψυχοκοινωνική Ανάλυση του Αναπτυξιακού Προφίλ του Άρθουρ στην Ταινία “Joker”
Έγινε ενημέρωση: 23 Οκτ 2021
by Aspasia Venieri
Αναμένεται μετέφραση εις την ελληνικήν
A Biopsychosocial Analysis of Arthur’s Developmental Profile in the Film “Joker”
The purpose of this paper is to provide a biopsychosocial analysis of the developmental status of Arthur Fleck, the young adult protagonist in the film “Joker” by exploring the emotional, cognitive, physical, social and cultural diversity domains. The theories of the following scholars are employed to explain Arthur’s pathways to become the ‘Joker’: Freud (1856-1939); Mahler (1955); Erikson (1963, 1968); Bowlby (1969-1971); Ainsworth (1978-1993); Kohlberg (1969); McAdams (2001, 2015); Bronfenbrenner (1995); Marcia (1980); Super (1976, 1980); Holland (1997); Brown & Lent (2016); Sternberg (1986).
“Joker” is a psychological thriller film directed and produced in 2019 by Todd Philips. The protagonist, Arthur Fleck, is an impoverished, lonely young adult in his late thirties, living with his mother, taking care of her, and striving to succeed as a stand-up comedian in Gotham City during 1981. The city is overruled by crime and unemployment.
Arthur has been taking several medications prescribed by the mental health services for the mental health issues he suffers from, along with a condition that causes him to laugh unwillingly, at inappropriate situations. Moreover, he attends his meetings regularly and shows that he wants to get better, but there is no improvement in his condition. He is very distressed and at some point, he develops an imaginative love affair with his neighbor who is a single mother of a little girl.
One day, while working as a clown, he is brutally attacked by a street gang. Then, Randall, a colleague, gives him a gun to protect himself. Arthur keeps losing one job after the other, being overwhelmed by disappointment. No one notices or appreciates his talent. One night that he was returning home with the metro, dressed as a clown after a performance, he was once again attacked, this time by three drunk wealthy boys; Arthur defended himself and shot them to death. Thomas Wayne, Gotham’s richest and most powerful man condemns the killings, claiming that those who envy and target successful rich people are “clowns”. Thereafter, protests and riots against the rich people begin all around the city, with people wearing clown masks like Arthur’s. Two detectives investigating the death of the wealthy boys, interrogate Arthur’s mother who in that moment has a stroke and is transferred to the hospital.
Arthur learns from a letter of his mother that Wayne is his father and goes to his mansion to meet him. Instead, he gets humiliated by the butler who tells him that his mother was a delusional, sick woman. Later, he manages to confront Wayne, who also tells him that he has been adopted and that his mother is crazy. At the same time, social services’ budgets are cut, and Arthur can neither continue his therapy sessions, nor get prescriptions for his medications. Trying to find out the truth about his identity, Arthur steals his mother’s file from the mental health asylum. There, it is mentioned that he was adopted, though his mother claimed this was a setup from Wayne’s lawyers. Moreover, there were documents proving that he had been undernourished, physically abused and hit in the head by his mother’s boyfriend. Arthur’s whole world collapses. He rushes into the hospital and suffocates his mother with her pillow. A downward spiral begins for Arthur; he decides to kill all those who have hurt him. He stabs Randall, who was responsible for him getting fired, and later shoots, Murray, his favorite comedian, live on camera, at his show, because he had recently ridiculed him for one of his performances. Arthur gets arrested, but on his way to prison, the rioters crash the car killing the policemen. Arthur gets out and starts dancing on the roof of the car smiling to a crowd of clowns that cheers him. He has become the ‘Joker’; now he is noticed, approved and followed by a huge audience!
Following Kail & Cavanaugh’s (2019) biopsychosocial framework of development, Arthur will be evaluated in the following domains:
The way Arthur moves, talks and thinks, are incongruent with his age. Arthur is like a shy, naïve, ‘nice’, little boy. He does all that his mother has taught him to do. He tells Murray “she always tells me to smile and put on a happy face… I was prettier to spread joy, laughter”. When Randal gave him his gun to protect himself, Arthur looked at it and said in a childish voice “ I am not supposed to have a gun”. He did not defend himself to his boss when he blamed him for the stolen placate, he was ‘nice’ and obedient. Afterwards, he expressed all his anger for the unfair treatment kicking metallic garbage bins, hurting his feet. He can’t derive any pleasure from his miserable life, so he imagines things, like little boys who create imaginative friends. He has the following delusions: that everybody tells him that his stand up acts are for the big clubs, that he is attending live one of Murray’s shows who tells him that he would give it all up to have a kid like him. Moreover, he imagines he is having an affair with his neighbor. These delusions are his coping mechanism for the approval, parental affection and intimacy that he misses.
According to Work Et al. (2011), the neurological syndrome Arthur is suffering from, bursting into uncontrollable laughter in inappropriate situations, causing him embarrassment and distress, is called Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). The caused behavior, laughter and /or crying, is usually incongruent with the current mood and causes great frustration to the individual. suffering PBA has high comorbidity with depression. The brain injury Arthur obtained as a child, is one of the most highly associated conditions for PBA prevalence. In 2010, much later than the time Arthur became ‘Joker’, the FDA in the U.S.A., approved Nuedexta as the first medicine for the treatment of PBA. Till then, PBA’s symptoms had been ineffectively treated with antidepressants.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders/DSM-5 (APA, 2013), moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI), like the one Arthur experienced as a child, can cause neurophysiological, emotional and behavioral problems such as loss of control, aggression, hostility, depression, fatigue, apathy, impaired occupational and social functioning, mood changes, as well as delays in several areas of development. Arthur does not display the maturity in thought, speech and movement of a person of his age. It seems as if his brain has not developed along with his age. Accordingly, he displays difficulty in the occupational and social, relational areas of his life. He loses one job after the other, he does not have an affair, and he does not have friends or people to go out with. Later when he becomes ‘Joker’, he displays excessive reactive aggression, hostility and apathy when he kills those who had mistreated him.
The Attachment Theory of Bowlby (1969-1971) and Ainsworth (1978-1993) as explained in Cassidy (1988) and Pittman Et al. (2011), focuses on the quality of the relationship of the infant and young child with his primary caregivers in their daily interaction. A physically responsive, as well as emotionally available caregiver, usually the mother, that is supporting the child’s signals for exploration and proximity seeking, develops a ‘secure attachment base’. Nevertheless, depending on the quality of the mother-child relationship, these attachment styles could also develop to be ‘anxious’, ‘ambivalent’ or ‘avoidant’. It is theorized that based on the quality of this relationship, the child develops ‘internal working models’, ‘mental schemas’, which are adaptable and continue to guide his behavior towards new relationships when the caregiver is not there, determining the capacity and intimacy or connectedness with others in both ordinary and emergency contexts. These cognitive models form the template beliefs that the individual has about the world, people and themselves, forming a foundation for the formation of their identity. Those internal working models are also retained in adulthood, and shape a person’s environment, by determining who they will choose to be with, what behaviors they will attract from them, and what information they will attend to or neglect. Pittman et al. (2011) pinpoint how Bowlby – Ainsworth’s Attachment Theory complements Erikson’s Psychosocial theory (1963). They suggest that the first three stages of Erikson’s theory as well as Bowlby – Ainsworth’s Theory, deal with early childhood, where the relationship of the child with his/her caregiver contributes to the development of his/her beliefs about himself/herself, the world and others, forming the base for their exploration of the world and decision making later on. The Attachment Theory provides input on the different types of secure or insecure internal working models that may be formed, which will guide the use of different strategies by the child during development as well as later on, as an adult. The psychosocial theory informs us about the particular social demands and challenges in each stage of development that those internal working models can be applied.
Accordingly, Arthur’s attachment style was certainly insecure, considering the traumatic experiences he has been through; he seems to be ‘avoidant’, since he is a loner without any friends or social relationships. This can be explained by the emotionally and physically abusive, as well as neglecting relationship his mother with her boyfriend had with him as a child. He had been beaten, suffered a head injury, and left undernourished, tied to a radiator. Even now, as a grown man in his late thirties, his mother is still exploiting him and expecting to be his sole concern. She can walk, even dance, yet she enjoys having him bathe her. She is not interested in her son’s difficulties, neither his concerns; she doesn’t even care to hear about the only happy moment he has had in his miserable life, when he thought he had been out on a date with his neighbor. She neither believes in his talent, nor in his capabilities. Arthur does not complain; he has accepted that there is nothing to expect from her side or anyone else in the world. The internal working model, the mental schema through which he perceives the world guiding his behavior is that he has to be nice and caring without expecting anything from anyone, because no one will care for him. This is why he does not turn to anyone for support. He is certain that no one will provide any support to him, and this is what he actually attracts from others in his environment. He complained to his social worker that she did not listen to him and was then shut to himself, certain that there was no use to say anything more.
Arthur’s moral reasoning, following Kohlberg’s theory (1969), as described by Kail & Cavanaugh (2019), has been operating in the preconventional level, which is the first and least advanced of the three levels suggested. He is obedient to an external authority, his mother’s principles, based on the idea that she knows better what is right and wrong. This moral reasoning has been taught to him through punishment and reward. Usually the shifting from one level to the next, more advanced one, takes years; yet, Kohlberg suggests that it could also happen along with a dramatic shift in one’s moral motivation. Arthur moves to the conventional level, when he finds out in the news that killing the three men in the metro was approved by a large part of people in his city. He finally feels he belongs somewhere and is valuable to a group of oppressed and underprivileged people. He feels stronger, more self-confident and alive for the first time. This is not the ‘social system morality’, as Kohlberg (1969) has put it, which is in favor of the laws that maintain ‘order’. It is the group of people who rebel against the unjust society they are living in. Arthur, for the first time stands up and answers back to Randal when he goes to pick up his things after being fired. He expresses his anger and dislike towards his ex-colleagues who mock him by breaking things, before leaving the building. None of these behaviors were considered when he was in the precontemplation level. After he reads his mother’s medical file, Arthur’s moral motivation shifts again to the final, third level, the postconventional, developing a twisted personal moral code where he believes that because society has betrayed him, he should take the law into his hands revenging everyone who has wronged him by killing them. He is reframing his life from a tragedy to a comedy.
“Nothing can hurt me anymore. My life is nothing but a comedy. Comedy is subjective Murray. Isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what is right or wrong, the same way you decide what’s funny or not. Everything is awful these days. It’s enough to make anyone crazy. If there was me die on the sidewalk, you would walk right over me. I pass you every day and you don’t notice me. Have you seen what it’s like out there Murray? Everybody just yells and screams at each other.…
They think we will sit and take it like good little boys….
What you get when you crash a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats like trash. I will tell you what you get. You get what you … deserve!” (Philips et al., 2019)
Arthur displays characteristics of a chronic mood disorder (Barlow & Durand, 2017), which resembles one of the following, although more information is necessary in order to decide with more certainty:
1. Bipolar type 1, with rapid-cycling specifier and psychotic features. He is switching between depression and mania, alternating mood, without any break, displaying also delusions that he is praised by Murray on one of his TV shows, and that is having an affair with his neighbor.
2. Major Depression with mixed features of depression and mania, along with psychotic features.
Arthur is a lonely, seriously distressed, skinny young adult who is mistreated in whatever he tries to do. He attends therapy with a social worker. In his journal he writes disappointedly “I just hope that my death makes more sense than my life”. He is very distressed, crying but also laughing at the same time, due to his neurological condition. He asks his social worker “is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” In an effort to identify an emotional resource for him to turn to, she asks him whether he has someone to talk to. He replies that it was better when he was locked up in the hospital, whereas, he had been hitting his head on the door there out of his despair. Another day, he writes in his notepad that “the worst part about having a mental illness is that others expect you to behave as if you don’t”. He feels their contempt wherever he goes. After he kills the three men at the metro, his mood shifts while he starts letting his anger out towards those who mock him. When the media start commenting about the killer and the poor people of the city start taking his side, he feels for the first time that he exists; “ people are starting to notice” him, as he tells his therapist. Before, he didn’t know if he really existed, now he does. He even confronts his therapist telling her “You don’t listen, do you?”, “You don’t hear me really. All I have are negative thoughts, but you don’t listen anyway”.
Later, when Arthur reads his mother’s medical file, he finds out that she had been hospitalized three times since the age of fifteen for drug abuse, delusional psychosis and narcissistic personality disorder. His adoption certificate was attached along with paper clips from newspapers mentioning that though she had been a victim of battering herself, she allowed one of her boyfriends to abuse her little child repeatedly. He had been tied to a radiator and left there undernourished with multiple bruises all over his body and a serious trauma at his head. The comment of his mother had been that she “never heard him cry; he always had been such a happy little boy”. A downward spiral starts at that moment accelerating very fast. He becomes dominated by an irritable mood, and he goes off, filled with grandiosity and assertiveness, to retaliate against all those who had wronged him. He rushes from the mental health asylum directly to the hospital, where his mother is recovering from the stroke. He says “Happy? I haven’t been happy one minute in my entire … life” and suffocates her with her pillow. He feels good, a lot better actually now that he has stopped taking his medication, as he tells his ex-colleagues who visit him later at his home. Then, he impulsively brutally kills Randal and immediately after he calmly helps his other colleague to exit the room. Then, he starts to plan and practice how exactly he will kill Murray, without considering the legal consequences of his actions. There is great lability in his behavior from high to low. The particular characteristics of his disorder imply great severity with low response to treatment. He has been taking seven different medicines, yet he abruptly stopped them when the social service program was banned.
From a psychodynamic point of view (Corey, 2013; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2019), according to Freud’s Psychosexual (1856-1939) and Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory (1963), unless a person’s needs and challenges at each of the subsequent chronological periods they have been through so far, are satisfied adequately, they will be fixated at that stage. One should resolve those issues first, and acquire the developmental maturity necessary, before proceeding to the next stage.
The first three stages of the theorists (Corey, 2013; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2019), move in parallel and describe similar needs. Nevertheless, Erikson’s theory (1963) takes a longer life span perspective, expanding on Freud’s theory (1856-1939) by incorporating also the social, interactional feature that involves societal demands, and adding three more developmental stages in a person’s life.
Accordingly, at Freud’s ‘oral’ and Erikson’s ‘trust versus mistrust’ first year of life, Arthur had been abandoned and then adopted by a mother who did not nourish him. He was neglected and abused. Thus, he developed a mistrust towards other people while growing up and as a result has no close relationships. Also, the fact that he smokes heavily could be his way to achieve oral satisfaction. The second stage (Corey, 2013) is the ‘anal’ stage in Freud’s theory, and the ‘autonomy versus shame and doubt’ stage in Erikson’s, referring to ages one to three. At those ages, the child starts developing his personality by beginning to explore the world, assuming power, learning to express anger and frustration, experimenting and testing limits. The caregiver’s response to the child’s needs is critical for the development of his personality and the way he will become self-reliant or not. It is clear that Arthur’s dependent relationship with his mother and inability to express his anger and frustration with all the injustice and invalidation he receives, being obedient and ‘nice’ to everyone, derives from his mother’s excessive control over him. Borrowing from Beck’s (1976) Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the thoughts, in this case the internal working models and schemas, guiding his feelings are: always be nice, “smile and put on a happy face”, be obedient or you will be punished. These thoughts have been constraining all his emotions, like a lid in a pot with boiling water; this cannot last long, the strength of the boiling water will overturn the lid and then nothing will be able to stop the water from burning all that is around. The third stage of Freud’s theory is the ‘phallic’ compared to the ‘initiative versus guilt’ stage from Erickson’s theory (Corey, 2013). Accordingly, from Freud’s point of view, resolving the “Oedipus Complex”, the repressed incestuous desires that boys develop for their mothers, will determine the development of their sexuality. Following also Mahler’s (1955) work, as mentioned in Liebman et al. (2000), the father plays an important role during this period in supporting the individuation, separation of the child from the mother, providing a ‘compelling alternative’ and first representative of the ‘nonmother world’.
Arthur has been raised without a father since infancy, and according to his mother’s medical file, has been abused by one of his mother’s boyfriends. In his late thirties, he is still stuck with his mother, not having resolved the “Oedipus Complex”, serving her in an abnormal degree that she seems to enjoy. He does not dare to have an intimate life of his own, he only fantasizes one. The findings of the meta-analysis of Stevenson and Black (1988) on sixty-seven studies measuring sex role development of children of absent father families supports that the quality of the fathering is more important than his absence. MacCallum & Golombok (2004) pinpoint that a single mother’s ability to raise a child effectively depends a lot on her age, education, social and economic status. In a national American study of the well-being of children living without their fathers, DeBell (2008) also concludes that if socioeconomic factors are controlled, only a small variance in well-being can be associated with a father’s absence. On the other hand, parents’ behaviors, parental income and education are more strongly associated with children’s well-being. Ur Rehman et al. (2016), also found a significant association between physical and emotional abuse of children from parents with low education and socioeconomic status. Those abused children also developed more depression and behavioral problems later than non-abused children; they displayed emotional instability and high aggression towards others. A study by Annerback et al. (2018) confirmed the association between child abuse- physical and mental- as well as physical health problems. They also demonstrated that the lower the socioeconomic status, the more severe was the abuse towards children. Arthur has suffered severe trauma from his mother’s boyfriend and has been raised in extreme poverty by an uneducated mother who has been neglecting, exploiting, controlling and not believing in him, contrary to Erikson’s (1963) emphasis in this stage on the freedom of children to take initiatives and choose for themselves activities, necessary to develop a positive view of themselves without self-doubt (Corey, 2013). Unfortunately, Arthur learned the hard way that he had to let others make decisions for him.
The fourth stage of development for Freud is ‘latency’, where a child six to twelve years of age must make friends and engage in new activities (Corey, 2013). Erikson (1982) calls this stage ‘industry versus inferiority’ suggesting that the child should make better sense of the world by achieving personal goals and feeling competent (Corey, 2013). Arthur failed in those challenges since the only competence he ever achieved and the only relationship he had was with his mother. The fifth and final stage of development for Freud is the ‘genital’, starting at the age of twelve onwards, where the erotic element of the phallic stage is revived and the child consumes it through socially acceptable activities like friendships, sports, arts and later independence from parental influence and capacity to have intimate relationships and a working career of their own (Corey, 2013). Arthur does not have any social relationships or activities, he just struggles to start a career without any success. Erikson (1982) on the other hand has a separate stage for ages twelve to eighteen- that of ‘identity versus confusion’ where an adolescent tests limits and becomes independent from his/her parents pursuing his/her own goals developing a personal identity, otherwise suffering from role confusion (Corey, 2013). Arthur is confused about his identity and cannot develop intimate relationships, only formal ones with his colleagues and bosses. Erikson’s (1982) sixth stage of psychosocial development, that Arthur falls in according to his age, is that of ‘intimacy versus isolation’ (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2019). At this stage, an adolescent who has successfully formed their identity is ready to engage in long term relationships with others, contrary to another, who has not and is either reluctant to form relationships, or too dependent on others. The authors seem to agree with Robinson (2015), who prolongs the formation of identity in recent years, due to more complex psychosocial issues and multiple roles faced in modern societies, delaying the development of identity. Robinson, claims it is actually ‘commitment versus independence’, the process of someone to become an adult and not ‘intimacy vs isolation’ that Erikson calls it.. Arthur, though in his late thirties, is still not independent from his mother; he remained isolated from all other relationships, committed to taking care of her only. When this commitment to his mother breaks, he instantly becomes independent and ready to share his adult identity with many more people as the ‘Joker’.
Arthur has not resolved any of the developmental challenges proposed by Freud and Erikson; he is thus stuck behind psychosexually and psychosocially from his biological age. Joker on the other hand, resolved the challenges of the fourth and fifth stages of Freud’s psychosexual development and Erikson’s fourth, fifth and sixth stages of the psychosocial development.
Kail & Cavanaugh (2019) suggest that identity starts to develop through attachment in infancy; it is formed in adolescence as explained by Erikson’s theory and according to McAdams’ (2001; 2015) Life Story Model, during adulthood it can be revised due to changes in the environment and the cultural, social demands on people. McAdams supports that everyone’s identity is a life story that has a beginning a middle and an estimated ending. Accordingly, in the beginning Arthur was a sad, lonely, dependent, nobody, but when he fought back to the harsh economic conditions and societal impoverishment of the unprivileged in Gotham, he became a political symbol with great assertiveness followed by a huge audience, and from then on he is expected to unleash all his suppressed sorrow in a violent and destructive way. Smith and Thornberry (1995) found significant association between severe childhood maltreatment before the age of twelve and later delinquent behavior.
Biological - Physical Domain
According to Kail & Cavanaugh (2019), besides the features somebody inherits through genetics, diet and exercise also biologically affect the development of a child. Arthur has been malnourished since he was a child, and still appears extremely skinny. Moreover, he doesn’t seem to have ever participated in any physical activity. Nowadays, though tall, still has a very skinny body. Nevertheless, physically he seems quite functional, performing all physical movements, even running fast chasing the gang boys who stole his placate, without any problem, despite that fact that he also smokes a lot. Being a young adult of his age, he seems to cope well, yet in a few years, his body will not be able to support him if the quality of his life does not improve.
Kim-Cohen et al. (2006) in their meta-analysis present evidence that boys who have been physically maltreated early in life and have low levels of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype have a great vulnerability to develop antisocial behavior in adulthood under environmental stressors. They often develop mental health problems and display violent criminal behavior.
Arthur is conscious that he has mental health issues and wants to get better, so he asks the social worker to prescribe even more medicine to him. Kail & Cavanaugh (2019), stress the importance of socioeconomic factors as well as education in the ability to access quality health care influencing one’s health. Arthur has always been poor and does not have any education that could assist him in finding a job that would pay him enough money to be able to afford good mental health care and a better quality of life. His notes in his therapy book are spelled completely wrong, to the point that they are hard to read. They seem like they have been written by a child or someone who is completely illiterate, whereas he is also quite mentally disturbed. Moreover, some mental illnesses, or a vulnerability to those is inherited and activated when the individual undergoes environmental stress, according to the Diathesis-Stress model (Barlow & Durand, 2013). Arthur is living in a harsh society, striving without any success for employment and some dignity from the people around him. He may have inherited some genes from his parents, or a psychological vulnerability to mental illness; moreover, he has had an emotionally and physically traumatic, abusive childhood including a brain injury. Thus, it is not surprising that he has developed several mental health issues (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2019).
His mother had also been hospitalized in a mental health asylum. Her file, if it was accurate and not manipulated by Wayne’s lawyers, shows that she is suffering from delusions regarding her relationship with Wayne and having a son with him, while in reality she adopted him. Furthermore, her current behavior fulfills the necessary criteria of a narcissistic personality disorder as described in the DSM-5 (APA, 2013). She lacks empathy to her son’s issues, neglecting his concerns, even when he told her he had gone on a date. She is completely self-absorbed and preoccupied with fantasies of her ideal love with Wayne. She exploits her son and enjoys his favorable treatment, having him doing everything for her care, serving and cutting her meal, even bathing her although she has no physical disabilities. She enjoys his excessive admiration to the detriment of his personal life, being a lonely, adult man caring only for her.
Social Domain & Cultural Diversity
Arthur is a white, Caucasian, impoverished, American, in his late thirties, living with his mother in Gotham City in New Jersey. In 1981, few extremely rich people rule the city, while all the rest suffer from poverty and unemployment. It is a cruel society that disregards and abandons the underprivileged, cutting down even the programs for mental health services to those who need them desperately.
From an ecological and systems approach point of view (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2019), Bronfenbrenner’s (1995) four levels of the environment, that are interlinked with human development can give us a clear picture of Arthur’s social world.
1. The ‘Microsystem’ consists of one or more immediate environments. The only person in Arthur’s immediate environment is his mother who along with him comprises his core microsystem.
2. There is no ‘Mesosystem’, to connect several microsystems, since there is only one microsystem in Arthur’s isolated life.
3. The ‘Exosystem’, which is the broader social system that Arthur is embedded in, consists of his colleagues, his employers, Murray (his idol standup comedian), and his neighbor who he likes and thinks he has an affair with.
4. The ‘Macrosystem’ includes the wider context, under the rules of which the other two systems operate. It includes traditions, attitudes, and norms. Arthur used to watch Murray’s show with his mother every night, he bathed her, and he had regular meetings with his therapist until the service was cut. His attitude towards his condition, as he wrote in his therapy notepad, was that “the worst part of having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t”. A social attitude by the privileged of Gotham, as it was expressed by the mayoral candidate, Thomas Wayne, was that the murder of the three men in the metro was made by cowards, ‘clowns’ who envied those who succeeded unlike them. A norm in the American society, is that children, after they become of age, leave home; it is not common for a man in his late thirties to live in isolation with a dependent mother. He should have developed a life of his own by that age.
Sternberg (1986), in his Triangular Theory of Love, suggests that love consists of three basic components: intimacy, passion and commitment. Not all may be simultaneously present in a relationship, and passion is less stable than the other two, who may also fluctuate over time. Moreover, the amount, and type of each component characterizes the quality of every relationship. In the most successful relationships, there is usually a balance of all three. Madey and Rodgers (2009) studied the association between Attachment Theory (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1982) and Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (1986), and concluded that someone who has had a secure attachment base as a child, can develop intimacy and commitment with another person, not being afraid that they may be abandoned, and have more satisfying relationships. The authors found that less satisfying relationships were associated with a less secure attachment, less intimacy, passion and commitment. Since Arthur did not have a secure attachment with his mother, but a traumatic childhood instead, it can be understood why he does not have any satisfying relationships with friends or a real lover at his age. This makes it even harder and more stressful for him to survive in the cruel society he lives in. There are no resources of any kind left to him; he has no money, he is unemployed, no one recognizes the talent his believes he has, society cut off his mental health service, his colleague double crossed him and there is absolutely no one there to stand by him. He is completely isolated. He made up a fantastic romantic affair with his neighbor, a delusion, to be able to rely on someone emotionally for support to cope with his hardships, and sexually to cover his physical needs as an adult.
Arthur’s pursuit of a career as a stand-up comedian has been a major source of dissatisfaction in his life as well. As regards work, Kail and Cavanaugh (2019) analyze Super’s (1976; 1980) theory that parallels the development of self with the progress in one’s career. Super identifies three stages in the course of a choice of one’s career: crystallization and later specification during adolescence, where somebody gradually forms an identity and starts having ideas about a possible career; implementation, where they try different options in their early twenties; stabilization, during one’s mid-twenties and mid-thirties when a choice is made; consolidation, when after mid-thirties, one concludes on the career they will follow for life. Arthur, in his late thirties, is currently in the consolidation phase. After having numerous failed attempts to become a stand-up comedian, he finally finds his calling- to become a violent criminal. According to Super, those career phases come in parallel with particular developmental tasks. Thus, Arthur passed from the exploratory task first, during the age fifteen to twenty-four, to establishment, which is supposed to last until he becomes forty-four. Kail and Cavanaugh (2019) also consider Holland’s (1997) notion which supports that people choose a career that fits their personality and interests. Thus, he suggests six different prototypical personalities according to their occupational interests: investigative, realistic, enterprising, social, artistic and conventional. Usually, people combine some characteristics of several of them and when there is a good fit between one’s interests and the career chosen, then it is highly likely that they will continue with this career. With Arthur, it was proven that the solely artistic career did not fit his personality, abilities and skills. Kail and Cavanaugh (2019), provide more input about career choices from studies by Brown and Lent (2016) and Lent (2005) that combine Super’s and Holland’s points of view adding self-efficacy, the perception that one can succeed in an area, and the outcome expectations regarding this particular path, as the factors that guide one’s choice of a career. Education, experience, stress in the field, and work family conflict mediate this choice too. Arthur’s mother used to tell him that his purpose of life was to make people happy, she even called him ‘Happy’. He had no education, so he was convinced he would succeed as a comedian. This was the only thing that brightened his miserable life. Kail and Cavanaugh (2019),also round up the work domain with Marcia’s (1980) progress to identity formation via stages in career choice that are not fixed but can change anytime in one’s life through identity reevaluations. These stages are diffusion, foreclosure moratorium and achievement. Arthur, after having explored several options as a stand-up comedian, has reached the ‘achievement stage’ where he consciously decides to become a violent villain who sets his own rules and has a violent audience that follows him.
Arthur seems to have had the biological vulnerability to develop mental health issues which combined with the abusive environment he was brought up, led him to become the ‘Joker’. It is very sad though, that he wanted to get better but was not provided the means to do so; he went to his appointments, and he asked from the social worker to help him by giving him more medicine. I seriously believe that he could have become a very different person if he had been brought up in a loving family that would nourish and support him, both physically and emotionally, providing also independence and autonomy. Also, society, which “abandoned a mentally ill loner”, as well as the way people treated him, had a lot to do with the emergence of the ‘Joker’. This was his reaction, his coping mechanism to survive from the madness and cruelty surrounding him.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Annerbäck, E-M., Svedin, C. G., & Dahlström, Ö. (2018). Child physical abuse: Factors influencing the associations between self-reported exposure and self-reported health problems: a cross-sectional study. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Mental Health:12(1).
Barlow, D. H., & Durand, V. M. (2013). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Cengage Learning.
Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York International Universities Press.
Cassidy, J. (1988). Child-mother attachment and the self in six-year-olds. Child Development: 59(1), 121-134.
Corey, G. (2013). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (9TH Ed.). Brooks/Cole, Gengage Learning: U.S.A.
DeBell, M. (2008). Children living without their fathers: Population estimates and indicators of educational well-being. Social Indicators Research: 87(3), 427-443.
Kail, R.V., & Cavanaugh, J.C. (2019). Human development: A life-span view (8TH Ed.). Cengage Learning , Inc.
Kim-Cohen, J., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., Williams, B., Newcombe, R., Craig, I. W., Moffitt, T. E. (2006). MAOA, maltreatment, and gene-environment interaction predicting children's mental health: New evidence and a meta-analysis. Molecular Psychiatry: 11(10), 903-913.
Liebman, S. J. & Abell, S. C. (2000). The forgotten parent no more: A psychoanalytic reconsideration of fatherhood. Psychoanalytic Psychology: 17(1), 88-105.
MacCallum, F., & Golombok, S. (2004). Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: A follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry: 45(8), 1407-1419.
Madey, S. F., & Rodgers, L. (2009). The effect of attachment and Sternberg’s triangular theory of love on relationship satisfaction. Individual Differences Research: 7(2), 76-84.
Pittman, J. F., Keiley, M. K., Kerpelman, J. L., & Vaughn, B. E. (2011). Attachment, identity, and intimacy: Parallels between Bowlby's and Erikson's paradigms. Journal of Family Theory & Review: 3(1), 32-46.
Philips, T., Cooper, B., Tilinger Koskoff, E. (Producers), & Philips, T. (Director). (2019). Joker [Motion picture]. Warner Bros, Pictures DC Films; Joint Effort: Bron Creative, Village
Smith, C. A., Thornberry, T. P. (1995). The relationship between childhood maltreatment and adolescent involvement in delinquency. Working Paper No. 17. New York State Univ. System, Albany.
Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119-135.
Stevenson, M. R., & Black, K. N. (1988). Paternal absence and sex-role development: A meta-analysis. Child Development:59(3), 793-814.
Ur Rehman, A., Kazmi, S. F., Perveen, S. (2016). Physical and emotional abuse: Association with demographics and behavioral problems in abused and non-abused children. Journal of Pakistan Psychiatric Society: 13(3), 27-30.
Work, S. S., Colamonico, J. A., Bradley, W. G., Kaye, R. E. (2011). Pseudobulbar affect: An under-recognized and under-treated neurological disorder. Advances in Therapy: 28(7), 586-601.