• Television

“Moon Knight” Pulls Back the Curtain on Mental Illness

We’ve all looked in the mirror during covid and not recognized the person looking back. In Moon Knight – the latest Marvel character brought to a little screen near you – Disney+ has perfected the trend they began with Golden Globe-nominated The Mandalorian, the critically acclaimed Wanda Vision, and crowd favorite Loki. While shows like Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow were both canceled by The CW, the Marvel crowd seems to have figured out the winning formula. 


Of course, movie stars with critical and commercial success have turned up on the Disney+ shows, which also have the advantage of expanding robust franchises from the summer blockbuster halcyon days before the pandemic. By introducing Steven Grant (Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac), a mild-mannered museum worker who suffers from what appears to be a Dissociative Identity Disorder, the streamer is also tapping into the universal psychological angst that has resulted from years of stress fatigue due to social upheaval, an invisible viral threat that can kill, food shortages, imminent environmental catastrophe, and political turmoil – and we haven’t even ventured into the potential of another war that threatens to pull in global allies on both sides. So, yes, a character dealing with some psychological demons makes us feel just a little bit more normal.

While most of us thought we’d developed an alter ego who sloshed around in sweats and hid behind a mask for most of our covid days, Grant’s dormant personality is that of Marc Spector – a former mercenary and ruthless avatar of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. Though lesser-known, the character has a long history.

Launched on its new TV platform at the end of March 2022, Moon Knight debuted in Werewolf by Night #32, in 1975. For the past 47 years, the former marine and CIA operative turned mercenary has been the earthly avatar of the Egyptian deity. What makes this rendition so pertinent is the mental health challenges placed front and center along with the action.

Since the 1980s, America has fallen short in its obligation to people marginalized by mental health. With little understanding of the disease, it pushed them to the edge of society and left them with no place to find sanctuary. Moon Knight explores what it’s like to feel inhabited by someone else.

In this case, one of the manifestations has a different accent; the other persona, well, kills people. Vaguely aware that Marc may be doing things Steven would not approve of, and in an effort to prevent the violence Steven suspects Marc to be perpetrating, Steven chains himself to his bed and tries to capture the man impersonating him on video – only to see his very own image. The discovery and adventure of living with a destructive personality unfolds in increasingly dangerous, and edifying, ways.  

In the press notes, head writer Jeremy Slater elaborates. “He’s a brutal, uncompromising warrior…but he’s also a man at war with his own mind. I think the character’s struggles with his mental health allowed us to create a truly compelling character study, while still delivering all the action and humor that Marvel fans have come to expect.” Marvel Studios has slipped the social commentary in so subtly that hard-core fans are still jazzed at this rendition.

Executive Producer Grant Curtis excitedly noted: “Grounding the character in his comic book heritage and celebrating what made him popular with readers – the grittier, darker aspects of the original character who often veered from hero to anti-hero – was essential for Marvel Studios filmmakers. But, in essence, he is a new on-screen Marvel character with no link to the current MCU.”

This was part of the appeal for Golden Globe nominee Ethan Hawke, who portrays Arthur Harrow. “A lot of my favorite Marvel movies are about discovering the new legends,” he explains. “You don’t know who Doctor Strange is, you don’t know who Black Panther is. It’s about getting introduced to a new Superhero and a new world.” Fans will not feel alienated by the novelty.


Head writer Jeremy Slater and his team used the original book comic as a guide and inspiration. Moon Knight has had so many radically different iterations over the years that our writing staff had a wealth of options at our disposal,” Slater explains. “At its heart, Moon Knight was designed as a mystery: who is Steven Grant, and why does he keep dreaming about another life as a globe-trotting mercenary? What happens when elements from those dreams start invading his waking hours? Steven’s journey for answers leads him to a hidden world of gods and monsters, and a battle that could shape the future of the MCU. Our team took a lot of inspiration from classic adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the goal of telling a relentlessly entertaining story filled with unexpected twists and turns.”

“We’re absolutely embracing the supernatural aspects of what was in the comics: the Egyptian gods, this ruthless Egyptian god Khonshu that manipulates Marc to do his bidding. We’re embracing all that. We love stuff that goes bump in the night.” Adds Curtis, “When you see a Marvel Studios’ end product there’s so much spectacle and adventure you forget what we always go back to. Our compass is always character, character, character. What we’re telling in the Moon Knight story is a very cool character exploration of Marc Spector and Steven Grant, two very different people who share the same body, who have the same goal – a complete life – but have very different visions of what that complete life is.”  

Since Moon Knight deals with Egyptian mythology, the producers brought in the first Arab director to head a Marvel project. Mohamed Diab (Clash), directs four of the episodes. Diab was attracted by the “opportunity of a Superhero that we haven’t seen before, someone who’s struggling with himself.” He elaborates: “His inner conflict is actually visual. You can see his internal struggle. It’s great for character development.” Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead helmed episodes 102 and 104, respectively.

In all its renditions, at the heart of Moon Knight, we find a very sensitive and deep exploration of mental health themes. Moon Knight is an MCU superhero, but the character is dealing with real-life relatable traumas.

Oscar Isaac points out the universality of the work. “I think it was just about being honest to what dissociative identity disorder is, and honest to what a lot of people have to deal with, which is really intense childhood trauma and how that manifests as an adult. For us, it was about authenticity, more than even story communication.” 

Ethan Hawke agrees. “It’s especially interesting to take your hero and present him with a real source of pain in mental illness. It’s not a joke. He’s a guy who’s really struggling, and it’s very interesting to have a protagonist who’s in a tremendous amount of pain and who is not a classic hero.”