Psychopathology in the Movies

Topics: Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Body dysmorphic disorder, Anxiety Pages: 9 (3012 words) Published: September 25, 2013
1. Synopsis: The Aviator focuses on Howard Hughes’s life from the 1920’s to 1940’s. After his father’s death, Hughes inherits the small family fortune and moves to Los Angeles to become a film Director in Hollywood. His movie Hell’s Angels, a huge film success, takes three years and a large sum of money for him to finish with a change from silent to sound. When he becomes romantically involved with Katharine Hepburn, she helps Hughes alleviate his symptoms of OCD. Even in the movie, his passion for aviation maintains constant throughout his life, as he designs new planes, sets flying records and flies around the world. His OCD symptoms worsen especially after an aircraft crash that causes him severe injuries. Hughes founded his own airline, Trans-World Airlines, his ideas creating a huge success as well as gaining many enemies like his rival Jon Trippe, the head of Pan American Airlines and Senator Brewster. Senator Brewster tries to prove that Hughes is using his plane designs to earn money through government contracts. Hughes successfully counter attacks Brewster’s accusations and continues on his projects. However, the movie ends with Howard relapsing into an extremely severe state of OCD.

2. Diagnosis:
(a) In the movie The Aviator, the main character Howard Hughes suffers from a mental illness called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Hughes declining mental health is only hinted at in the beginning of the movie, but it gradually worsens. His symptoms consume him when he goes through periods of high emotional stress and is usually able to snap out of it, except at the end of the movie where the audience sees that Hughes’s mental condition has considerably worsened and will continue to do so in his life. Hughes has obsessions and compulsions about repeating phrases, washing his hands, the need to have things in order, etc. These symptoms affect his daily life and consume his actions. (b) The American Psychiatric Publishing (2011) describes compulsions by having “repetitive behaviors (hand washing and ordering) or mental acts (repeating words) that you feel driven to perform” and that

obsessions “cause marked anxiety or distress” and tend to revolve around “repeated thoughts about contamination, repeated doubts, a need to have things in a particular order”. Throughout the movie, Hughes presents all of these symptoms. A major storyline is Hughes’s obsession with contamination and making sure things stay clean. One of the first examples in the movie is when he requests a bottle of mild, unopened and wipes his hands clean. In addition, when he is in his screening room watching Hell’s Angels, he holds his hands up to the projector light, afraid that they are not clean enough because he scratched the chair in front of him. During the premiere of his movie Hell’s Angels, he is distressed by the proximity of the crowd as well as the photographers. The constant flashing of the bulbs and stepping on the broken bulbs unnerves him, but he does not react yet to these stressors. Howard also fears contagion from sharing his food and from other people. In a bathroom scene, Howard uses his own soap to wash his hands and sees a man behind him on crutches. Becoming instantly terrified, Hughes ignores the man and continues to wash his hands except when the man asks him to pass a towel. Although Howard feels guilty about it as he says, “I really can’t do that. I’m sorry” (The Aviator) clearly offending the man. Kearney and Trull (2012) state that, “The person recognizes that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable” (p. 109). Hughes obviously regrets his decision, but his OCD overpowers his ability to do otherwise. Howard’s mental condition begins to decline and his OCD significantly impairs his ability to function or socialize. For three months, Howard secludes himself in his screening room, avoiding the outside because it is filled with germs. In addition, he seldom lets people in, and only under strict...

Cited: Kearney, C. A., & Trull, T. J. (2012). Abnormal psychology and life: a dimensional approach (Student
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