Psychologically disturbed and mentally ill characters are a staple of Hollywood dramas. While screenwriters can occasionally be quite perceptive about human psychology and family functioning, much of the time their creations do not correspond very well with the behavior of actual people who come to see therapists and psychiatrists for treatment. Sometimes screenwriters are in fact utterly clueless.
It galls me, for example, that even psychiatrists are praising Silver Linings Playbook. The movie makes people think that it accurately portrays a patient with bipolar disorder, but spreads common, destructive myths about the disorder. A person does not suddenly come out of a manic episode just because his romantic interest says something pertinent!
In A Beautiful Mind, a patient with schizophrenia is seen being hounded by several characters with distinct, complex, and unchanging personalities, and who always look the same. They turn out to be delusional creations. Psychotic delusions in schizophrenia are never even close to being that complex and static.
When it comes to borderline personality disorder (BPD), screenwriters have actually done somewhat better, although they do not usually understand the families that produce offspring with the condition. There have been a few movie portrayals, most of which have not been completely off the mark.
Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, the behavior of whom was not completely unlike someone with the disorder was a bit of a caricature, but the movie gave very little insight as to what may have made her the way she was.
Anne Hathaway’s character in Rachel Getting Married is a recovering drug addict but shows some features of BPD. The underlying conflict this character has with her mother could have been a little more developed. Maybe the screenwriter, Jenny Lumet, wasn’t too sure about what it should look like.