Why does someone like the joker

"Joker": What can be said from a psychotherapeutic point of view

When I left the auditorium with the other cinema-goers, I saw some distressed faces. I almost felt a little relieved: I.I wasn't the only one who was moved by the film "Joker". But what exactly did the film trigger in viewers? And what can be said about the film from a psychotherapeutic point of view?

Before you read any further, here is a SPOILER warning: I assume that you have already seen the film by the time you read the article. In the article I will refer to some of the twists and turns of the film.

Joker is about a middle-aged protagonist who lives with his mother in need of care in the gloomy city of Gotham. Through a series of unfavorable circumstances, decisions and insights, Arthur Fleck gradually develops into a wild card - a ruthless, murderous antihero.

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The film can be viewed from different perspectives: from a sociopolitical, sociological, psychiatric but also from a psychotherapeutic perspective. While many of these perspectives are really exciting, this article focuses primarily on some psychotherapeutically relevant aspects of the film.

So what are they?

Intra-psychological violence

"Happy, did you check the postbox?" His mother greets him when he initially comes home from a gig as a clown. 

"Arthur just did Happy called? "I frowned because Happycertainly hadn't been Arthur's day.

On the contrary - in the first third of the film, Arthur is mainly seen as a victim:

  • Thugs attack him.
  • His boss deducts the equivalent of the destroyed shield from his salary.
  • A colleague slips him a gun and later betrays him.

Then the first turning point: Arthur was just fired. You can see him sitting in an almost empty subway wagon. Three men abuse a woman on the train and Arthur starts laughing uncontrollably. The men turn to him; ask him what's funny and then start kicking him. As in the beginning, he is helpless on the ground again. There are kicks and blows from all directions.

This injustice - as a spectator it was almost unbearable. Why doesn't he fight back? At that moment, Arthur's pistol rang out two shots and two of the attackers fell dead. The third tries to escape, but Arthur pursues him and shoots him dead in cold blood.

It's not difficult to empathize with Arthur. He is alone and isolated, the city is gray and gloomy, nobody understands his illness, let alone can deal with it. The subsidies for social institutions have been canceled and there doesn't seem to be anyone who can help him in this sad reality respected as he is.

Not even his mother. Or especially not his mother. Because this funned him early on that one should always be happy. Happy was her nickname for Arthur. “Put on a happy face” later became the Joker's motto.

We live in a society where not being happy is seen as failure.

Many self-help books fuel this trend: The formula for happiness; the happiest person in the world; Positivity and the so-called “positivity ratio” that says that you should have a certain ratio of positive to negative feelings. What if I have a “bad ratio” of positive to negative feelings? Am I not okay then? Am I doing something wrong then?

The book The law of attraction, argues that you attract what you think of. And of course that's partly true. What you focus on becomes bigger. But what we often forget is that so-called “negative sensations” are valuable feedback from our organism: namely about needs worthy of recognition that are currently not being met.

I write “negative” in quotation marks because the core of this topic is to distinguish between negative and positive feelings. This distinction leads to “negative experience” being devalued and repressed. And this devaluation is a form of internal psychic violence. Initially, many clients come to hypnotherapeutic practices with the task of “hypnotizing negative experiences away”. If you accept the assignment, you would only strengthen the undesirable symptoms.

In addition, we cannot control our emotions. Wanting to suppress a feeling for a long time is like trying to confront a horse that is galloping towards the abyss: It rides you down.

So the more we try to control and deny negative feelings, the stronger they get. The vicious circle is perfect.

Back to the film: The internal psychological violence against Arthur's own “negative” feelings and thoughts turned more and more into an external physical violence against others in the course of the film. Because this gave him something that he hadn't felt for a long time:

Power and helplessness

After his first act of violence, Arthur can be seen dancing in the public toilet. In contrast to earlier dance scenes, his dance is now more expressive and uninhibited. Arthur probably feels a sense of power and control for the first time after his complete helplessness. And this is now driving the development of the joker.

In such tragic circumstances as the injustice at his work, the violence on the street, the social stigmata and norms of what he should be, the seeds of violence fell on fertile ground. Arthur had been a victim for most of his life, now he became a perpetrator, making him feel powerful and effective.

Joker an alternate ending?

Was the development of the Joker Arthur's only way out of his misery? How could Arthur have experienced power, control, and self-efficacy under these circumstances?

If one aspect / narrative is lost in the film, then this is ours personal freedom of choice. Nobody can control what happens to you, how fair or unfair society treats you. But what we control is how we react to it - how we see ourselves in the world. However, that does not excuse intolerable socio-political conditions.

As much empathy as one can have for Arthur's circumstances, one must also clearly state that ultimately it is his decisions that make him the wild card and that he is responsible for them.


Basically, the film Joker depicts a dystopia: a lack of social benefits, a divided society, stigmatizing treatment of mental illnesses, combined with the inner-psychological dynamics and traumatic biography of the protagonist prepare the ground for the antihero joker. His choice: revenge and chaos.

Does the film encourage violence? The depictions of violence in the film are brutal, but brutal films are now abundant. The film is more disturbing than that. Think about whether you want to expose yourself to this. The first half develops compassion and compassion for a lonely man on the fringes of society. You feel relief when he begins to fight back. But a limit is quickly crossed and relief gives way to horror and shock.

There's a point where he crosses the line where I am no longer able to stick by his side. Joaquin Phoenix IndieWire

In the end there was a bitter feeling. The passage from the cinema was like waking up from a horror trance. But what this horror trance really encourages in my opinion is to question our access to our inner experiences and feelings. In addition: taking responsibility, treating ourselves and others with respect in order to create an inclusive society that stands up for the dignity and rights of all.

What do you think of the Joker movie?

Raphael has been blogging for the Milton Erickson Society for Clinical Hypnosis since mid-2018. He is currently training to be a psychotherapist himself. He completed the clinical hypnosis curriculum as an intern in Heidelberg, Vienna and Hamburg. A few of his past projects include the blog no-right-no-wrong.com and his book:Mindful self-hypnosis.