In this post I am going to discuss Arthur Fleck’s condition, as depicted in the movie, Joker. According to Arthur, he has a condition which causes him to laugh uncontrollably.
Is it a real condition, where Arthur really can’t stop laughing? or is this simply something that Arthur believes is real? And is there any truth in the condition? Is it possible to have uncontrollable laughter?
What does Arthur say about the condition?
Early into the movie, Arthur has to explain why he is laughing uncontrollably. Rather than explain the situation verbally, he carries a card which contains the following details:
The front of the card reads:
Forgive my Laughter:
I have a Condition.
MORE ON BACK
The back of the card reads:
It’s a medical condition causing sudden frequent and uncontrollable laughter that doesn’t match how you feel.
It can happen in people with a brain injury or certain neurological conditions.
KINDLY RETURN THIS CARD
Arthur only reveals this card in full once, but it is enough to make the audience understand that he can’t help the laughter. It is also suggested that his work colleagues are aware of the condition, after presumably being presented with the same card.
So, Arthur has been using this card for sometime (further indicated by the creases in the plastic), and this is something which he is unable to change. Or is it?
Midway through the movie, when Arthur’s mother is taken into hospital after being questioned by Gotham City police officers, one of the detectives asks Arthur about his condition. He wonders if the condition is real or if it is part of his act?
Up until this point of the movie, it is just assumed that the condition is real. No doubt has been cast on Arthur’s claims, because he has a laminated card which explains his situation.
But at what point in the film does a medically trained professional discuss Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter? In truth, it never happens.
While Arthur is seen talking with a social worker, and an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist, at no point during the course of Joker does any medical professional speak to Arthur to confirm his condition is real. The card might say it is, but nothing on the card proves it to be true.
Could Arthur have simply created the card himself? It is unclear.
The card might have been created by Arthur, to better explain his condition to strangers. After all, flashing a card which looks official (even if it is not) can go a long way to convincing people something is real. But that doesn’t mean Arthur is lying about his condition; it could be that he is suffering from this condition.
Did Penny Fleck diagnose Arthur’s condition?
So, who told Arthur he has this condition? Well, the answer could lie in an exchange between Arthur and his mother, Penny.
During a bedside conversation with his mother, Arthur says the following:
“You know how you used to tell me, that my laugh was a condition? That there was something wrong with me? There isn’t. That’s the real me.”
This piece of dialogue can be taken that Arthur believes the laugh – which represents the Joker side of his personality – is who he really is inside. But if we focus on just that first line, we can see that it was Penny who told Arthur he had a condition.
This would suggest that no one has diagnosed Arthur with a medical condition. Over the course of time, Arthur has taken his mother at her word.
Penny is said to have mental health issues, and in the past, she has also neglected her son, so not everything she says is reliable. But even if Penny is lying, Arthur still could have a condition.
Is uncontrollable laughter a real condition?
Whether Arthur truly has a condition or not, one question remains: Is uncontrollable laughter a real condition? The answer is yes.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, the condition is called the pseudobulbar affect.
“Some people with multiple sclerosis find that they experience sudden episodes of uncontrollable laughing and/or crying at inappropriate times, or which are unrelated, or out of proportion, to their current mood.”
In addition to people living with multiple sclerosis, the pseudobulbar affect can appear amongst people with motor neurone disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and those who have had a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. It can also be mistaken for depression.
So, whether his diagnosis came from a medical professional or simply from his mother, Arthur Fleck could be experiencing the pseudobulbar affect.
I hope this information has proved useful. Should you wish to find out more information about characters and situations featured in the Batman movie series, please check out one of the recommended reads below.