In Joker, Todd Phillips’ newly imagined origin story for the infamous DC villain, Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a downtrodden man who erupts into uncontrollable laughter at the most inappropriate moments. As the film progresses, the audience learns that his outbursts are the symptom of a brain injury. And while the script never names the Joker’s disorder, it’s based on a real-life medical condition called pseudobulbar affect.
“It’s hard not to have sympathy for somebody who experienced that level of childhood trauma,” Joaquin Phoenix said of the character.
Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition that’s characterized by episodes of sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing or crying. Pseudobulbar affect typically occurs in people with certain neurological conditions or injuries, which might affect the way the brain controls emotion.
If you have pseudobulbar affect you’ll experience emotions normally, but you’ll sometimes express them in an exaggerated or inappropriate way. As a result, the condition can be embarrassing and disruptive to your daily life.