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Playing Devil's Advocate For Joaquin Phoenix

I’ve been sitting on this Joaquin Phoenix thing since it started, mostly because I didn’t know how to approach it, but partly because…well, I don’t know that I’m in agreement with the masses.

Yes, he made a sudden and unexpected career change. Yes, he went from kind of hot to Grizzly Adams’ stunt double. And yes, his behavior on Letterman last week was awkward and uncomfortable.

But do I think the man has serious mental problems? Do I think he’s on some kind of alcoholic binge or using drugs? Not yet.

Loss of interest in things once enjoyed, drastic changes in appearance, and overall behavior that’s out of character are all often considered warning signs of various mental health problems.

But – and when it’s all said and done I could just be playing devil’s advocate – what if Phoenix really just doesn’t want to act anymore? What if he’s just interested in going au natural with the facial fuzz? What if, as this ABC commenter pointed out, Phoenix’s ill-at-ease behavior was just in response to Letterman being rude? (And you have to admit – Letterman was being rude.)

Would any of that be so unbelievable? I don’t think so. Especially given Phoenix’s comments a couple of years ago about how movies made him feel:

“[…] the actor revealed he doesn’t like watching himself and also stated that the end of filming “Johnny Cash” movie threw him in a big depression: ‘I hate watching myself. I went through confusion and depression. After a film like this, I lose those things that help define me and make me comfortable. I go through this thing of, ‘What am I? What do I do?’’”

Perhaps Phoenix is depressed. Maybe he’s unhappy with where his life is right now, and just wants to try some new things. It happens – that trapped and suffocating “Who am I? Where am I and what am I doing?” feeling – but it doesn’t always mean there’s severe mental illness or drug and alcohol problems fueling it.

I’m certainly not suggesting everyone should just blow off the arrival of this new-and-maybe-but-maybe-not-improved Joaquin Phoenix, because clearly he really could be dealing with things much deeper than just wanting a change of pace. Phoenix’s loved ones and friends are best suited for keeping their eyes open for this right now. I am, however, suggesting the rest of us hold off for a bit longer before jumping to conclusions. Maybe wait and see if this vision quest proves to help him find happiness and satisfaction before we release the shrinks on him?

Playing Devil's Advocate For Joaquin Phoenix

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2009). Playing Devil's Advocate For Joaquin Phoenix. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 14 Feb 2009
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