Letter from the Editor - Fall 2019, Print Edition No.3

Illustration by Chloe Geschwind

Illustration by Chloe Geschwind

Warner Bros.’ “Joker” smashed box office records with a $93.5 million debut last week, earning the biggest October launch of all time. The R-rated comic book thriller, serving as a prelude to Joker’s legacy as the main villain of the Batman films, garnered over $13 million in premiere night showings on Thursday, Oct. 4. Despite the film’s immense on-screen success, “Joker” has incited major controversy because of its depictions of violence and mental illness.

Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix plays the film’s main character, Arthur Fleck, a hopeful standup comic who battles a rare medical condition that causes unmanageable laughter during life’s most gruesome moments. Fleck feels left behind by society and turns to violence, doing so in an unsettling way that tests the boundaries of a traditional comic book film.

Within the context of our country’s current political climate, many questioned if the actions of Phoenix’s character would inspire those who feel isolated and alienated from society to start a violent uproar of their own, setting off some kind of violent movement or series of violent acts.

Legitimate threats of violence impacted showings of “Joker” right here in Southern California, as the Century Huntington Beach and XD theater in Orange County cancelled two premiere night screenings after receiving a credible threat, according to Huntington Beach police. Elsewhere, documentation prepared at a U.S. Army base in Oklahoma stated that officials were alerted about disturbing online chatter regarding a potential mass shooting threat during the film’s opening week.

Thankfully, no acts of violence have been recorded since the movie’s recent release. These threats remind the industry of 2012’s Aurora, Colo. shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which left 12 people dead and 70 injured. Families directly affected by the 2012 shooting spoke out against “Joker” when it's trailer debuted in April and have since asked Warner Bros. to lobby for gun control.

When examining the film itself, it’s important to note the source of some viewers’ feelings of uneasiness. Without question, director Todd Philips took a risk in releasing this film now, considering the ever-growing debate over gun control. It’s difficult to separate “Joker” from real-world violence because of how realistic the film appears. Some could even say it portrays concepts of loneliness and hopelessness as rationale for violence.

When taking all of the above concerns into consideration, it’s also crucial to separate the artistry of the film from reality itself. One thing refreshing about “Joker” is its approach to politics. The film doesn’t take a stance, in an industry where pretty much everything else crosses political boundary lines. But, while “Joker” didn’t cross political boundaries, it may have toed the line in terms of its commentary on mental health -- insinuating that violence is a justifiable response to despair.

“Joker” is certainly a film that brings mental health to the forefront, an important topic of discussion that’s emphasized here at Santa Monica College (SMC). SMC offers an impressive array of resources to assist the mental health needs of students through The Center for Wellness & Wellbeing, which is open in-person at the new Student Services Building five days per week.

SMC also has a 24/7 emotional support phone number -- (800) 691-6003 -- that provides in-moment support to students from a mental health clinician affiliated with the Center for Wellness & Wellbeing. Faculty and staff can also call the emotional support phone number to consult about a student in crisis.

What’s most important to realize here is that no matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone. There’s no need to turn to violence or negativity. Instead, lean on the people around you. Working to maintain good mental health is a struggle faced by many, particularly college students.

With the stress of classes, work, relationships and other obstacles, things can feel like a bit much sometimes. Acknowledging that you need help is easier said than done, but SMC offers resources to help take the next steps toward self-care. By discussing the mental health needs of ourselves and others, we can aid one another to work through these trials and tribulations.

Managing mental health is a complicated endeavour, but there’s no need to make the journey harder than it has to be by enduring it alone.