Movies and Mental Illness Paper - Primal Fear
“ I believe in the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty. I believe in that notion because I choose to believe in the basic goodness of people.” The film Primal Fear depicts a defense attorney who takes up the case of an altar boy, Aaron, accused of murdering the Archbishop. As the film progresses, the defendant exhibits Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) which causes serious challenges to the case for the defense. In this paper we attempt to provide a synopsis of the movie including key scenes where the specific disorder in question is being shown. Additionally, we discuss key diagnostic as well as psychotherapy steps for this disorder and analyze the movie's accuracy in depicting Aaron as an individual suffering from DID.
Primal Fear is an American thriller released in 1996. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit and featured Richard Gere, Edward Norton and Laura Linney as the main actors. The film's main character is a Chicago defense attorney, Martin Vail, played by Richard Gere. The film starts by depicting Martin Vail as a reviled Chicago defense attorney who takes up cases of alleged criminals and successfully defends them. He is an arrogant, brilliant and successful criminal defense attorney who loves a good fight and the media spotlight, both of which he knowingly invites when he volunteers to represent a penniless, bewildered young man accused of murder, Aaron Stampler, played by Edward Norton. Aaron is charged with the murder of Catholic Archbishop Richard Rushman. In the beginning of the film, Rushman is shown being butchered with fingers being cut off and eyes gouged out while Aaron is shown fleeing from cops, with blood staining his clothes, face, and hands. The alleged murderer had carved a set of letters and numbers – B32.156 - into Archbishop Rushman’s chest. While Martin's defene team fails to determine the source or relevance of this particular set of letters and numbers, the prosecuting attorney uses this alphanumeric pattern to establish motive. The letter and first two numbers led to the book in the church library, The Scarlet Letter, and motive is established based on a particular underlined passage on page 156 from the book. “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude.” The prosecution's argument is that Aaron
believed the bishop to be a two-faced personality and thus decided to murder him. But Vail doesn't concern himself with questions of guilt or innocence. All he cares about is creating his version of the truth. All he cares about is winning. Vail's absolute need to win, his antagonism toward his former boss in the prosecutor's office, complicated and contentious relationship with the prosecutor Janet Venable, and his assertion of innocence on behalf of his client are cornerstones of the movie. During investigations as part of the trial, Vail's team discovers that some very powerful public figures and investors, including District Attorney John Shaughnessy, lost millions of dollars in real estate investments due to a decision by the Archbishop not to develop luxury rental properties on certain church lands instead of donating them to public causes and facilities for the poor and underserved. Vail tries to dig a little deeper to search for a motive originating from this discovery. Vail asks his friend Molly, played by Frances McDormand, to conduct a psychological analysis of Aaron to determine if he suffers from a mental illness. As part of her videotaped sessions with Stampler, at one point Molly watches Stampler turn into a sub-personality when pressured and cornered into talking about his girlfriend Linda's sexual relationships with other boys. Meanwhile, Tommy Goodman, an associate of Vail's firm, gets attacked when trying to sift through Aaron Stampler's apartment. Vail talks to Aaron about the attack and the discussion leads to Alex, another altar boy. When Vail and Tommy...
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