Josh Brolin reflects on the movie Joker and mental health

Josh Brolin
Josh Brolin before the interview, October 10, 2017.  He was wearing an Eric Marsh Foundation shirt.

It might be easy to think of an actor as a person who memorizes lines and then stands in front of a camera to repeat them. But when you learn more or talk with them you might find that they can be more complex.

When I met Josh Brolin before the premier of “Only the Brave” to interview him about playing the role of Eric Marsh, one of the 19 firefighters that were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire, I came away thinking that he was self aware, empathetic, intelligent, and thoughtful. I began following him on Instagram which only confirmed that first impression especially Saturday when he posted his feelings about the just-released movie “Joker”. What he wrote was, yes, intelligent and thoughtful.

I have not seen the movie, but descriptions usually include the words “dark” and “disturbing”. Fearing that something unpleasant could happen, some theaters banned any customers wearing masks.

Here is the brief  description of the film written by the movie’s producers:

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

And, Josh’s thoughts:


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To appreciate “Joker” I believe you have to have either gone through something traumatic in your lifetime (and I believe most of us have) or understand somewhere in your psyche what true compassion is (which usually comes from having gone through something traumatic, unfortunately). An example of dangerous compassion would be to, say, make a film made about the fragility of the human psyche, and make it so raw, so brutal, so balletic that by the time you leave the theatre you not only don’t want to hurt anything but you desperately want an answer and a solution to the violence and mental health issues that have spun out of control around us. This film makes you hurt and only in pain do we ever want to change. It’s all in the irony of trauma — a fine line between the resentment of wanting to hurt society back for raping you of a decent life, for not protecting you, and accepting what feels like alien feelings with softening to those others who seem freakish in our era of judgment, and digital damnation. Like kids in Middle School: man, they can just be mean. For no reason. And, sometimes, those awful little clicky kids breed an evil in someone that rages much later, when everyone pretends we are all back to normal, when we all thought it had just manned up and gone away. We have a habit of hating and ostracizing and dividing and sweeping our problems under the rug. Joker, is simply lifting the rug and looking underneath it. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s there.

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Some people have a knack for looking at an issue and exposing the core. Josh wrote about the “awful little clicky kids” in middle school that “breed an evil in someone that rages much later”.

Some of those awful kids don’t change when they become adults and can still foment hate and ostracize those who are not the same as them. Not only do those kids need counseling, but they may also need it as adults, as do their victims.

I have, thankfully, only met a few people in my life that I would describe as evil — someone who intentionally and maliciously strives to inflict harm on others, emotionally or physically, for reasons known only to them. There may not be a conventional reason or motivation for their behavior. It could be a baked-in reflex in response to a long ago, even forgotten, trauma, or bad wiring in the brain.

Regardless of the origin, we need to do more to make mental health treatment more accessible and affordable.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.