Fear is a very powerful human emotion that has been historically exaggerated by the media. This is done in order to sell a story or catch a viewer's attention. I decided long ago that I would not sacrifice an hour of my day just to hear about what is wrong with the world. I would rather surround myself with positivity and hope.
Why are we so fascinated with violence and madness in the movies? So many films exaggerate fear while sacrificing the truth. When a film exploits and twist the truth about mental illness, we subject those (with the illness) to unnecessary discrimination and prejudice. I was apprehensive to watch The Dark Knight because I was afraid this movie would continue this misrepresentation of mental illness. I recall a quote I had heard around the time of the movie's release. The quote described the joker as "a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy". I don't know how the joker could be diagnosed with schizophrenia when there is no evidence that he hears voices or experiences another hallucination/delusion. If anything, he was portrayed as a homicidal sociopath (which is in no way linked to schizophrenia). This sends a very negative and inaccurate message about mental illness. When people are not directly affected by mental illness, they rely on what they see in the news or even movies to form an opinion. I think that society could benefit from more education on the subject.
In The Dark Knight, you find out that the joker uses individuals with paranoid schizophrenia to carry out his plans. Batman stops Harvey Dent from killing a man because he says something like, "he's paranoid schizophrenic, broken out of Arkham, just the mind the joker would prey on to do his dirty work". To someone who has a brother with the disease, this did not make any sense to me. Schizophrenia does not cause a person to become violent or make them more capable to carry out violence. In fact, multiple studies have shown that those with psychiatric disorders are more vulnerable to being victimized and are more likely to harm themselves than others. Another statistic shows that 95% of murders are committed by sane individuals.
There was one part in the movie in which a man is locked in a cell with a bomb in his chest (put there by the joker). He states that the joker promised to take away the voices. This line left me a bit sad because if anything, most people with schizophrenia would do anything for the voices to go away. Luckily, medicine and cognitive therapy help people achieve this peace.
When people are commending Heath Ledger for his portrayal of the joker, they should be concerned about how a movie has the power to label millions of people (who struggle with mental illness). I personally would like to see a day when writers are forced to run their scripts by the NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) in order to get their facts straight. You need to do your homework Hollywood.
I would like to thank the brave directors and writers for producing positive films about mental illness. They choose to focus on hope. Please see my links to the right to view a few of these film trailers. The media needs to focus a little more on empathy (not fear) when it comes to the topic of mental illness.