On Aug. 9, 2019, a new feature film, “Ode to Joy,” opened in select theaters and released via video on demand across the United States. “Ode to Joy” is a romantic comedy about a man, Charlie (played by Martin Freeman), navigating romance while living with narcolepsy with cataplexy.

While Project Sleep was not involved in the development or filming of this movie, our organization is providing the sleep community and film audiences with educational tools and resources to discuss the film and how it relates to the real-life condition.

The portrayal of narcolepsy in “Ode to Joy” is unique to previous cinematic depictions of narcolepsy because of its strong focus on cataplexy. Cataplexy is defined and depicted many times over the course of the film, with these depictions ranging from accurate (i.e., a knee-buckling and crumbling downward to the ground) to inaccurate (i.e., rigid plank tumbling backward).

Viewers get the impression that emotions, especially joy, cause Charlie to “pass out” or fall asleep. Thus, Charlie tries to avoid joy to avoid cataplexy by using mitigation techniques such as listening to classical music, thinking of tragic world events, and putting thumbtacks in his shoes on a date. He does not appear to be on any traditional treatments.

While narcolepsy is mentioned a few times too, it is not explained that cataplexy is one of five major symptoms of narcolepsy, nor do we see the main character experience any other symptoms. Learn more key information via Project Sleep’s Guide for Sleep Doctors: About the Movie and Key Talking Points.

From “My Own Private Idaho” (1991) and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” (1999) to “Ode to Joy” (2019), representations of narcolepsy in films provide valuable insight into public perceptions and understanding of narcolepsy. For many individuals, these cinematic depictions may be their only exposure to the symptoms and impacts of narcolepsy. By being aware of new cinematic portrayals of narcolepsy, medical professionals and patient advocacy organizations alike can help patients navigate the film’s influence.

Please see Project Sleep’s resources to learn more and spread the word to your patients and colleagues. Key resources include:

By Julie Flygare, JD, President & CEO, Project Sleep