Jon Bernthal: ‘The Punisher’ Will ‘Hold A Mirror To Society’ Exploring Grief, Violence, And The Cost [Opinion]

The Punisher is not about glorifying the extreme violence portrayed in the upcoming Netflix series, according to Jon Bernthal. Frank Castle, the character portrayed by Bernthal, has been shaped by circumstances into the vigilante he has become. Castle is far from perfect.

Jon Bernthal told the Los Angeles Times, The Punisher is no hero. The Punisher is not a good guy, per se.

“I don’t want you to look at him and say, ‘This guy’s clearly a hero.’ That’s never how I’ve looked at him, and that’s never been the purpose.”

The Punisher’s wife and two children were senselessly murdered by the mob and so ex-marine Frank Castle goes looking for his own version of justice. Jon Bernthal portrays a man so full of grief and pain, and unable to find justice within the system, he becomes The Punisher.

Due to the violent nature of The Punisher, it was decided that in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Jon Bernthal and the rest of The Punisher cast would not be part of the New York Comic Con. Further, The Punisher’s premiere date was pushed back to November 17 out of respect.

The Las Vegas shooting left 58 country music concert attendees dead and hundreds more wounded. With still another shooting in Texas this time targeting a small Baptist church, viewers may be more sensitive to television violence than usual.

The Punisher’s violence, as well as the dramatic content, deal with Frank Castle’s desire for revenge after his wife and children were senselessly killed. Jon Bernthal’s character is angry and devastated by grief. The connection between grief and anger can be a powerful one. Jon Bernthal simply calls it pain.

Jon Bernthal told the Los Angeles Times The Punisher, Frank Castle, is not a hero, just a man in pain.

“Frank is a guy who is in unbelievable pain, and there’s an unbelievable cost to the violence that he’s gone through in his life.”

Jon Bernthal told Variety The Punisher was a piece about grief, not violence, though there will likely be plenty of violence in this Netflix original series since it is based on the comic books.

The Punisher’s anger comes out in a far more physical and dramatic way than most experience. Still, MD Junction verifies that grief-related anger comes out in three phases. First, it is a “protest,” or attempt to deny reality. Secondly, anger is an attempt at retrieval. It seeks to blame someone or something and to target the culprit, even in cases where there is no one to blame, according to MD Junction.

“[Anger] may be directed at the doctor, at God, at oneself, or even at the deceased. Anger seeks to locate the author of the death with the hope that somehow our deceased loved one can be retrieved. This desire to retrieve or to have our dead loved ones return to life continues for some time.”

Jon Bernthal’s character Frank Castle has become The Punisher due to a natural anger with the equally natural desire for justice or revenge. While The Punisher is an extreme example, anger is a natural part of the process of loss and grief. Most people feel at least some anger after the death of a loved one, or for that matter any sort of loss.

The Punisher Cast attend Netflix premiere
The Punisher Cast attend Netflix premiere by By lev radin Shutterstock

Jon Bernthal’s character The Punisher, as a former marine, has the training and the ability to seek revenge but still, Frank Castle feels powerless because no matter how violent his revenge might be, his wife and children cannot be returned. This leads to the third stage of anger in grief, the feeling of being helpless to change the past, according to MD Junction.

The Punisher is a “powerful” and “tragic” character explained Jon Bernthal to the Los Angeles Times because of his pain.

“His pain in the darkness is what makes him so powerful and so tragic.”

Jon Bernthal acknowledges The Punisher’s actions are rash and unacceptable within society, but Frank Castle still has a lot to tell the viewers. Jon Bernthal says Frank Castle is in “unbelievable pain.” Fans of The Punisher comics and movies know that Castle’s pain comes from an act of senseless violence against his family.

Jon Bernthal told the Los Angeles Times his portrayal of The Punisher is straight from the comics.

“His struggle comes right from the comics. Is the real Frank Castle this guy who loves his family and wants them to live in the suburbs and have a quiet family life? Or is the real guy most happy standing neck-deep in blood and guts, and in war? Is this the guy who he actually really wants to be? Is this the only way to quiet the beast? And was the beast really created by losing his family, or was the beast always there inside of him?”

Grief is not The Punisher’s only issue. As part of an elite military force, Frank Castle has seen action. Jon Bernthal wanted to know what it was like for special forces ex-military to return home.

Jon Bernthal stars in The Punisher on Netflix
Jon Bernthal stars in The Punisher on Netflix by Andy Kropa Invision AP

Jon Bernthal and showrunner Steve Lightfoot researched The Punisher by speaking with veterans, many of whom are extras in The Punisher production. Bernthal and Lightfoot discovered that often veterans of elite forces found it difficult to re-enter society as Jon Bernthal explains.

“In talking to a lot of these really elite soldiers, it’s a real issue. How do you return to real life when you’ve become so at home in this world with unbelievable stakes, unbelievable bonds between soldiers? When you create a family abroad, how do you go back to your family at home?”

Jon Bernthal will be portraying this aspect of The Punisher as well. The world of an elite soldier is far different from that of an average American raising a family, and yet, Frank Castle is both, and when he becomes The Punisher, lines are blurred between his homeland and the war zone.

Jon Bernthal recognizes The Punisher is a hard-hitting series to be undertaking at this moment in history, but The Punisher comic originated in 1974, which was a far different time. Oddly, this time seems to fit The Punisher almost too well. There is a lot of grief in many situations right now.

Jon Bernthal told the Los Angeles Times he hopes The Punisher makes people think, rather than tell them how to feel.

“I hope it makes people think. That’s the best thing that art can do is not try to answer those questions, but to try to ask them and to hold a mirror to society and make you wonder why.”

In The Punisher, Frank Castle may not be dealing with his grief-related anger in a productive way, but perhaps watching Jon Bernthal portray The Punisher might be a way of venting anger vicariously, and thus therapeutically and harmlessly. MD Junction provides information on safely venting grief-related anger.

Jon Bernthal will portray Frank Castle in a way that expresses the inner workings of The Punisher. Jon Bernthal wants viewers to know The Punisher isn’t about senseless violence, rather it is a story about grief.

The Punisher’s executive producer Jeph Loeb echoes Jon Bernthal’s remarks poignantly, telling Variety The Punisher is a hero who bleeds.

“In terms of how vulnerable he can be, how human he can be, you really are on the edge of your seat. This is not a hero that bullets bounce off of, this a hero that bleeds, and that’s important to us.”

The Punisher with Jon Bernthal will premiere on Netflix, November 17, 2017.

[Featured Image by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP Images]