ALEX FORREST


(Fatal Attraction)

What’s the Matter with Her?
To the untrained eye, Alex is a little unstable (Just ask the bunny). She throws tantrums, stalks Dan, and becomes violent after a weekend love fest doesn’t turn into anything more substantial. Alex’s behavior can be explained by a personality disorder that specifically focuses on interpersonal relationships.

Borderline Personality Disorder
Despite its name, the border implied by this diagnosis is not explained (It probably doesn’t relate to the Madonna song, but who could say?) This particular personality problem is marked by impulsive behavior and teeter-totter interactions with others. Alex’s symptoms that support this diagnosis include the following:

*Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

*A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships
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This one isn’t clear. The only relationship we get to witness is the one between Alex and Dan, so whether she has a pattern of this is not well-known. One could argue that the only reason an attractive, successful woman is single and alone is because she is crazy (Those people are called ignorant). It is obvious that merely a few days’ fling with a married man puts Alex in an unusual frame of mind. She doesn’t ever discuss friends or family or exes and none of them make appearances. The presence of a pattern can’t be determined, but she is certainly unstable and intense with Dan.

*Impulsivity in at least two areas that are self-damaging
This one is also a little sketchy (Not unlike Alex). She both kidnaps Dan’s child and sleeps with a married man she works with, so both of these could be constituted as potentially self-damaging. Alex also mutilates herself in an effort to keep Dan around.

*Suicidal behavior

That one explains itself.

*Chronic feelings of emptiness

That one also explains itself (Although the electric company probably has a few questions).

*Inappropriate, intense anger
Anyone could argue that being tossed around by a married guy might make somebody angry. However, Alex knows from the get-go that Dan is taken. She seems to acknowledge what she’s getting herself into, but does not want to let go. Instead, her behavior escalates to the point of violence in the name of a relationship between her and Dan that essentially lasted for three days. She inflicts emotional distress on him and his family, as well as physical harm on one of their beloved pets.

Is Alex a Liar?
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It’s hard to say (Let’s just go with probably). She tells Dan that she is pregnant, but does not actually show any pregnancy symptoms after the fact. Alex even offers alcohol to Dan when he unexpectedly comes over, though she is not drinking it herself.
Dan tells his friend at work that he called the gynecologist himself and the doctor confirmed the results and he finds a pregnancy test among Alex’s possessions.
Not definitive symptoms of BPD, lying and manipulation sometimes accompany this disorder. In this case, Alex does not appear to be lying about her health state, but she may have intentionally not used protection as a means of manipulating Dan into something more permanent later. Regardless, not insisting on use of birth control definitely constitutes impulsivity on both their parts (The moral of this story is always use protection, ladies and gentlemen).

What Do You Think?
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Fatal Attraction


1987, Rated R

When married man Dan (Michael Douglas) meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) at a party, his world gets turned upside-down. They begin a relationship that seems like fun at first, but soon things take a disturbing turn. Alex becomes obsessive and hostile, going so far as to disrupt Dan’s life at home with his wife (Anne Archer) and their young daughter (Ellen Latzen). No matter what Dan does, he cannot seem to get Alex to leave him alone. Unfortunately, his efforts may lead to horrifying consequences.

CONRAD JARRETT


(Ordinary People)

What’s the Matter with Him?
Conrad’s brother recently died in a boating accident (in the middle of Illinois somehow). Since Conrad was there when older brother, Buck met his demise, he struggles with overwhelming guilt and sadness following the accident.
His emotional state led Conrad to try and kill himself, but fortunately his father and mother were home and were able to save him. Finally deciding to go to a therapist once he is released from the hospital, Conrad is trying to understand himself and to feel better.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
A disorder that receives a lot of attention is commonly called PTSD – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Military veterans returning from combat sometimes go through this, but anyone recovering from a traumatic experience can suffer the same condition. Some indications Conrad may have PTSD include the following symptoms:

*Exposure to Actual or Threatened Death
Obviously, Conrad experienced both when Buck (Seriously, who named these children?) died and Conrad almost died.

*Recurrent Distressing Dreams in Which the Content of the Dream is Related to the Traumatic Event
When we first meet Conrad, he wakes up from a disturbing dream about the accident. He continues to have them throughout the movie.

*Avoidance of or Efforts to Avoid People that Arouse Distressing Memories, Thoughts, or Feelings About or Closely Associated with the Traumatic Event
In a conversation with his friend, Joe, Conrad tells him that he doesn’t want to hang around with Joe anymore because it hurts too much. This is after Joe reveals that he, Conrad, and Buck were all close friends.

*Negative Alterations in Cognitions and Mood
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…This one seems obvious.

*Irritable Behavior and Angry Outbursts (with Little or No Provocation)
This one doesn’t happen a lot in the movie, but it is there. (Mary Tyler Moore brings out the rage).

*Reckless or Self-Destructive Behavior
This one is self-explanatory. Other than his suicide attempt however, Conrad is a pretty careful guy (When he’s not yelling at his mom, of course).

What About Beth?

That’s a tricky one.
She definitely had a hard time with Buck’s death and it’s even implied that he may have been her favorite (Parents aren’t supposed to have favorites, but even parents are not perfect. I know. I was shocked too). Although her husband does go to see Conrad’s therapist in an effort to help out their remaining son, Beth refuses to go and becomes angry when husband Calvin (One of those kids should have been named Hobbes) tells a friend of theirs about Conrad’s therapy.
Since the focus of the film is on Conrad, it’s not clear what Beth is thinking (Ever), but it may be that her cold demeanor and avoidance of getting in touch with her own mentality are products of her own, normal grieving process. It’s hard to say for sure since she is so closed off from Conrad, but grief does strange things to us all.

Is There Hope for Conrad?

Yes! Going to therapy and opening up to his father (And trying with his mom, but she’s hopeless) are good signs that Conrad is going to be okay. He even gets a second chance with Jeannine. Anxiety disorders like PTSD are not touted as curable, but they can be managed if the person with them makes an effort to do so. It looks as though Conrad is finally willing to make the effort and forgive himself.

What Do You Think?
Conrad 2
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Ordinary People


1980, Rated R

Conrad (Timothy Hutton) has a hard time relating to his mother (Mary Tyler Moore) and father (Donald Sutherland) after the accidental death of his older brother. Coping with the tragedy forced Conrad close to suicide and he has since been going to a therapist (Judd Hirsch). As the family tries to reconnect with one another following their loss, they struggle to regain a sense of normalcy. They begin to wonder if normal and ordinary might not be as easy as they look.
~This film won the 1980 Academy Award for Best Picture.

NATHAN GARDNER


(Charlie Bartlett)

What’s the Matter with Him?
Other than being the principal of a high school, Nathan’s dilemma is a pretty common one: He drinks too much (Alcohol, not coffee). An ex-wife that doesn’t get along with him and a daughter who attends said high school do not seem to make his life any easier.

Alcohol Use Disorder
The DSM-V has taken the “drinking problem” of the average Joe (In this case, Nathan) and classified it according to dependence. Since we don’t see the principal go through withdrawal or his first foray into drinking (A fraternity of some sort was probably involved),  this diagnosis makes the most sense.

*Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
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Upon arriving at Charlie’s house to punish him (Totally not weird for teachers to show up at your house, right?), Nathan admits that he had a drinking problem and just decided he didn’t need to drink anymore. Of course, this is after we know he stashes alcohol in his study. (No one who actually has a study uses it to study, everyone knows that.)

*Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at home

Susan confesses to Charlie that her dad’s drinking has caused a rift (That boats couldn’t fix) between the two of them. It appears that she and her father have not had a heart-to-heart on the matter. Naturally, that makes her a good candidate for stall-to-stall therapy in the school bathroom instead (Apparently high-schoolers don’t have great health insurance).

*Continued alcohol use despite having persistent social or interpersonal problems

It’s clear that the principal’s principles need some adjusting. He keeps up the drinking even though things with him and his daughter don’t appear to be going well.

*Alcohol use is continued despite knowing he has a persistent recurrent problem
Hiding alcohol is a dead giveaway (Not dead, just drunk) that someone knows they have a problem. This is usually their way of telling themselves they know it’s bad, but not letting the rest of the world know yet.

Is There Hope for Nathan?
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Yes! Between falling into a pool and seeing his daughter sing out, Nathan will probably stick to getting help more seriously this time around. He could always try bathroom therapy with Charlie, if all else fails.

What About…Literally Everyone Else?

In a film about a kid writing prescriptions to be popular, there are a lot of interesting characters to be found. Other disorders are highlighted briefly, but Nathan gets the most screen time so he makes for a more thorough case study than say Kip, Charlie’s mother, Whitney, or Murphy. Considering it is high school (And almost everyone attended Degrassi before showing up in this movie), there’s bound to be a lot of insanity floating around. In fact, there’s a lot of insanity floating around after high school too (And before, really always).

What Do You Think?
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Charlie Bartlett


2008, Rated R

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is a great kid, but he really wants to be popular. His mother (Hope Davis) becomes disgruntled when he’s kicked out of yet another private school and makes the decision to send her trouble-maker son to public school. While there, Charlie butts heads with some bullies and immediately gets on the bad side of principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.). However, through resourcefulness in the form of prescription drugs and therapy sessions, Charlie finds a way to get popularity, the attention of a pretty girl (Kat Dennings), and maybe even a whole lot more trouble than he bargained for…

SARA GOLDFARB


(Requiem for a Dream)

What’s the Matter with Her?
There really isn’t anything wrong with Sara at first; she just wants to lose a few pounds, misses her husband and wishes she saw more of her son, Harry (And she has bad taste in television). Sara falls prey to a doctor who prescribes pills quicker than he listens to his patient, and it is ironically a medical professional that initiates a serious mental illness.

Ampehtamine-Induced Psychotic Disorder with Onset During Intoxication
(Say that five times fast.) An Amphetamine is a stimulant that often works as an appetite suppressant. Though we don’t know exactly what Sara is taking, she is probably taking some sort of Amphetamine (Sometimes called Speed, but not affiliated with Keanu Reeves or Sandra Bullock). The primary symptom of her wordy illness is:

*Prominent hallucinations as a result of substance intoxication
Sara keeps hearing disturbing noises from her refrigerator as it moves toward her (It’s coming to get you, Sara…). Finally, her favorite television star and members of his guest audience appear in Sara’s own living room – only to make fun of her living situation (Because everyone on TV is a jerk).

Sara’s hallucinations clearly develop within the time frame that she starts taking the colorful pills, and though she visits the doctor a second time when she worries about the pills’ side effects, her insight into their pitfalls is not enough to keep her from using, then abusing, the drugs. (She tasted the rainbow; it was gross.)

What About Everyone Else?

Harry and Marion as well as Tyrone partake in their fair share of substance ingestion during the film. While Tyrone is a dealer, and gets into a slew of trouble related to that, Harry and Marion find their relationship in tatters over substance use.

Substance Abuse
Harry and Marion

It’s interesting to note that substance abuse itself is classified as a mental disorder (Peer Pressure = Crazy Talk). Since Harry, Tyrone and Marion use a variety of substances throughout the film, their disorder, collectively (Sharing is caring), can be identified by it simplest classification, which still has a few key symptoms:

*Recurrent Substance Use Resulting in a Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home
Harry consistently forgets to see his mother or to make her a big priority in his life; he holds no full-time employment and does not actively seek to find any. Marion, on the other hand, has no contact with her parents other than to ask them for quick cash.

*Recurrent Substance-Related Legal Problems

Tyrone is nearly killed and arrested for his drug use; Harry, meanwhile, is denied for employment when a potential employer spots his gangrene-infected arm.

*Continued Substance Use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance
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While Marion’s behavior crosses into the realm of prostitution to gain money for fixes, Tyrone’s brush with the law and Harry’s heartfelt conversation with his mother have no effect on their substance abuse issues.

Dependence vs. Tolerance
There is a lot of confusing drug lingo out there (It’s even more confusing if you’re high). Dependence is the name for the pattern of use; as in, someone drinks a lot of coffee in the morning and then gets cranky right around noon after their last cup has long been sipped. Tolerance and withdrawal are the symptoms used to gauge dependence.
Tolerance is one of the symptoms of dependence that means someone has more of something to achieve its desired effect. For example, instead of having two cups of coffee in the morning, someone now drinks three to feel like they’re really awake. Tolerance means requiring more of something to feel a certain way; dependence means tolerance has developed and there is a noticeable change in mood or demeanor when someone is not using the substance at all.

The Drug Problem
What the film clearly illustrates is that drugs are bad (Mmkay). Sara’s concerns are met by another prescription that only makes her worse. All the behaviors of the key players spiral negatively due to substance abuse. It’s an interesting take on a constant challenge: How do you make people feel better without medications?
The truth is that some problems require certain medicines to cure, but the other truth is that many, if not most, medications cause  new problems in the wake of solving one major problem. While it never hurts to get a doctor’s perspective, it also never hurts to evaluate whether a diet or exercise or stress-related problem could be the real source of discontent. The fact is that most problems are not all physical or all mental: They’re a little bit of both, so you have to tackle both pieces to solve the whole puzzle.
Drugs can, in fact, be good! But they can’t solve everything (Like Rubik’s cubes, nobody can solve those).

What Do You Think?
Sara Goldfarb

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