Undermined.

I begged Mr. Magpie to see the Downton Abbey movie with me because my sister was not interested and I couldn’t think of another girlfriend who was as into the series as I’d been. I talked about it for weeks and then I made an executive decision that we’d see it together one Saturday afternoon, arranged a sitter, and that was that. Only by the time the appointed Saturday rolled around, it was no longer showing in the majority of convenient theaters and in fact the only place screening it entailed a subway ride followed by either a mile-long walk or a taxi. Mr. Magpie grimaced. Not only was it a movie he had no interest in seeing, but it would be an annoying commute — and it was showing at the worst possible time: 5 P.M., when we had the sitter from 3-8. In other words, we’d be killing time at the beginning and then out of time for all but the quickest of dinners/drinks afterward.

So, I made him promise to see it when it comes out on video and let him pick a movie instead.

And he picked “Joker.”

I’ll let that selection hang out there for a minute.

We went from a lovely, polite comedy of manners to one of the heaviest, most violent movies I’ve ever seen.

When we emerged from the theater, all I could say was: “Yikes.”

We promptly sidled up to the bar at Cafe Luxembourg, where he ordered a gin martini (“stirred*, with a twist”) and I ordered a seasonal Hemingway daquiri, and then we tucked into their famous burger.

*Ed. note: At the original time of publication, I had mistakenly written “shaken, with a twist” and Mr. Magpie was deeply offended. Ha! Apparently martinis are only meant to be stirred. He has strong opinions on these matters.

Has anyone seen “Joker”? I have so many thoughts about it. First: it was a risky business trotting this character out after Heath Ledger had the performance of his lifetime playing it just before his early death. Joaquin Phoenix came to play, though, and was, I thought, excellent. That said, it felt as though the director was overly aware of Phoenix’s talent and there were far too many gratuitous close-up scenes of him and his face and his choking laughter. Yes, the scenes were well-acted, but they arrived with such density throughout the film that at one point I rolled my eyes: “Yes, we get it, we’ll see this in an Oscar highlights reel or an homage to Joaquin at some point soon.” The film was irritatingly self-aware in this sense.

Second — and you may do well to skip this section if you intend to watch the movie — I found the presentation of mental illness deeply problematic, especially if we consider the movie from a narrative structure standpoint. For the first half or two-thirds of the movie, I found myself applauding the movie’s thoughtful and empathetic treatment of mental health issues — its complexities, its categorization as a true illness that can and should be treated through therapy and medication, the cold and hurtful way in which society can treat those suffering from it. At one point, Joker writes: “The hardest thing about mental illness is pretending you don’t have one.” And how can you read that without feeling overwhelmingly sad? The agony of living with a mental illness coupled with ostracization at its hands? It’s a recipe for deep unhappiness and it feels sickeningly unfair. There was a lot to contemplate, too, about the ways in which his turbulent and abusive childhood and the tenuous or non-existent relationships with his parents shaped him and his illnesses. It left me wondering about the risk factors associated with mental health — and whether we are born with certain conditions or the turbulence of our lives shape us.

But at the very end of the movie, the tide turns. Suddenly, we find ourselves aligning with Robert De Niro’s character as the good-natured host of a TV program and we are unceremoniously shuffled out of the Joker’s corner as we watch him transform into a blood-thirsty maniac. We go from empathizing with him to viewing him as an outsider within the span of maybe five minutes, and because there have been so many heavy-handed overtures to mental health throughout the first section of the movie, it is difficult not to see the ending as some sort of cautionary tale. “Watch out — those suffering from mental illness may spiral out of control and kill everyone around them! They might become monsters!” This is the subtext.

I was so baffled by the mixed messages here that I talked for the better part of dinner about them. The end seemed to undo all of the hard work normalizing mental illness at the beginning. The Joker does go off of his medication and lose access to his therapist prior to this unhinging, and so it might be appropriate to say that the film is suggesting such intercessions are necessary and could have transformed the trajectory of The Joker’s life if pursued further. But there was something troublingly irreconcilable about the presentation of mental health here: it’s normal, it’s treatable, we should see the human struggling to get through his day and feeling alienated by society! And then, at the end, we do an abrupt about-face: those who are mentally ill are dangerous!!! Beware!!!

There was something grandly gesturing, almost metaphorical, about the beginning that made the entire first portion of the movie feel like a social commentary on mental illness writ large. And to therefore conclude the film with the character’s sudden descent into chaotic violence felt problematic.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Has anyone else seen it?

(And what else should we see?)

Post Scripts.

+I just updated my Shop page. I have been getting an increasing number of emails/direct messages asking me for things like my favorite maternity must-haves and my favorite baby gear, so I made an effort to organize items into those categories and will work to keep them updated in case you are wondering, “Wait, what brand bottle did she recommend?”. I am thinking I might also roll out a “bride to be” section and maybe a “Mr. Magpie” section as well — what other categories would you like to see? Maybe a permanent gift section organized by recipient? (I also included a “most popular” section featuring my magpie reader’s most loved items!)

+Heads up: Nordstrom Rack has a ton of Molton Brown soaps and body washes at 50% off! I just stocked our linen closet with these as I use this brand year-round. Might also be a good idea to buy a couple of these as hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. This is my all-time favorite scent for hand soap and I absolutely love this scent for body wash. This one is one of Mr. Magpie’s favorites. I also bought this holiday-scented one because ’tis the season!

+Love the look of this quilted pullover for a chilly morning run.

+Speaking of quilting, love this inexpensive coverall for micro!

+Intrigued by these facial wipes. Look at the reviews!

+Ralph’s current promotion (P.S. — DYING to see the Ralph documentary on HBO!) is too good to be true — extra 30% off sale, plus free fast shipping! I ordered a couple of coverall-type outfits for layering under bunting in cold weather (this and this), some socks, and also this cute bodysuit. Love this for a little lady around the holidays!

+Such a fun, festive dress.

+In a recent Magpie Mail, a reader asked for suggestions for everyday drinking glasses. I wrote: “These bodega glasses are fun and modern-looking (I love to drink wine out of glasses like this, per the Spaniards in San Sebastian!) and I love French-style tumblers with bees on the side like these (we inherited a set when we were married!) Perfect for juice/water. I also like these elegant highballs for a beautifully-set table. That brand is amazing for stemware, too!” Still stand by all of those picks but I will say that I recently decided to add to our drinking glass collection since, within the span of like two weeks, we somehow chipped, lost, or broke three of our drinking glasses we’d purchased nearly ten years ago. I love the bodega glasses but didn’t need a set of 18 or 12, we already owned the bee juice glasses, and the highballs are stunning but prone to chip if being used for everyday drinking glasses. I spent way too many hours looking for an elegant shape that did not get poor marks from reviewers for being too fragile. (Most of the glasses from Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma are poorly reviewed for this reason!) I ended up buying eight of these from CB2. I like their elegant shape and gracious size but they seem to be a bit hardier than the rest in their class. I also considered these, which get very strong reviews on Amazon, and really wanted these but was too concerned they’d break easily.

+You know the chunky pastel fair isle knit sweater from LSF that has been everywhere this season? I found an incredible dupe for a third of the price!

+These jams in the gray plaid!

15 Comments

  1. I’m going to go back and finish reading your review, but when you mentioned Mr. Magpie’s chagrin at being described as ordering a “shaken” martini (gasp!), all I could think of was the scene in “The West Wing” where President Bartlet opines on James Bond’s weak martinis (the link is only 28 seconds):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8oibBJTEpc

    Mr. Magpie is in good company!

    1. Also, I wrote this in the morning but didn’t post until the evening. I’m so glad that you took the suggestions so gracefully and changed the post!

    2. Thank you, Caroline, for both the thoughtful note and the generous way in which you phrased them. I apologize for my oversight! Glad my tribe has chimed in here. xxx

  2. I’m so happy you updated Le Shop section! I sometimes visit it just to see your latest finds. I recently was trying remember the media cabinet you had…but it escapes me. I’ll be in the market for one at some point. I also need new drinking glasses, so the updated recommendations were also helpful. Thanks! xo

  3. Wow — as someone who has battled mental illness for most of my life, as I started therapy at age 7 — this post has a lot of food for thought. I haven’t seen The Joker and don’t really intend to, although I respect Joaquin Phoenix’s talent (Heath Ledger’s performance in this role remains indelible to me!) … but now I sort of want to, so I can have a truly informed opinion on its depiction of mental illness.

    It’s true that mental illness is so stigmatized in our society — I’ve felt that intimately at different points. I agree with much of what you said, except for this: “Of course it is highly probable (or always the case?) that anyone who commits a violent crime suffers from a mental illness, and so — yes, the two are linked.” — this is troubling to me, and I’m having difficulty parsing whether this is because I myself have been in this mentally-ill category at points in my life, and so it hits too close to home. But I think it’s a dangerous assumption to make that everyone who commits a violent crime is mentally ill. Certainly it’s at play in many instances, but I chafe at being lumped in with actual sociopaths. Does that make sense? I think I’m taking it too personally, but I think there’s a huge difference between wanting to harm oneself (as a result of depression, for example) and wanting to harm others.

    Anyway! Maybe I WILL watch The Joker … as much as I really don’t like violent films, it sounds compelling. (Though I would much prefer the Downton Abbey movie myself!)

    xx

    1. To piggyback off of this comment, I’d like to chip in to say that the comment about linking violent crimes with mental illness also rubbed me the wrong way. According to the latest research I’ve read, only a very small percentage (3-5%) of violent crimes are committed by people suffering from serious mental illnesses — and in fact, people suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than to perpetuate such acts! Just wanted to offer some gentle correction here to what was otherwise an incredibly thoughtful, nuanced review. 🙂 I have not personally seen the Joker, but it sounds like I might find it problematic for many of the reasons mentioned in this post.

    2. Thank you so much, Megan. Grateful for your kind correction — please forgive my ignorance on this front. I am updating the post to omit that comment; I would hate to give any offense or hurt to anyone. As I mentioned above, my hope was to applaud the movie’s beginning, which I felt did a good job building empathy and understanding around mental health issues. (Much of which was erased later on.) At any rate, thank you for setting me straight.

    3. Hi MK! Ah! I am so sorry to have upset or offended. My intent with this entire post was to suggest that we need more narratives that normalize rather than stigmatize mental illness and I can see I was careless in the way I framed that portion. Please forgive me and thank you for setting me straight on this front (and to Megan below). Will update the post to omit this comment!

      xx
      Jen

    4. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Jen — not to worry too much, because I wasn’t terribly offended, per se, but as Megan said, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I do think that your overall approach in this post did have a more empathetic tone, and I do appreciate your sensitivity, as always! xx

  4. Oh man, I have not and probably will not see Joker, but I was crying laughing at the SNL spoof on it, which makes it Oscar the Grouch’s origin story. “From the twisted minds at Sesame Workshop…” Look it up if you’d like to lift your mood after such a dark experience!

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