Hollywood film producers and authors of fictional novels destined for the big screen have often given their characters psychological disorders. Producers and writers seek ways to add depth to their characters’ personalities and give them something to struggle against during the course of the story. The average movie-goer does not necessarily have the knowledge to determine if the disorder displayed on the big screen is accurate. To understand the dilemma of the average movie watcher, this paper reviews As Good As It Gets (Mark, Sakai, Ziskin, Producers, 1997) in the context of Melvin Udall, the protagonist, who suffers from at least two psychological disorders.
The film followed Melvin Udall, a romance novel author, who exhibits a score of odd behaviors. During one scene Melvin visits his psychologist who states the author’s diagnoses as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, Melvin also seems to struggle with the more troubling antisocial personality disorder, previously known as narcissistic personality disorder.
David Myers (2014) defined obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as “an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and actions (compulsions), or both.” The character, Melvin Udall, certainly exhibits OCD traits. His behaviors are compulsive and are often triggered by anxiety. For instance, he compulsively locks his door and flips the light switch in groups of five. He washes using extremely hot water and several bars of soap per washing. These are typical compulsions for those with OCD and are notable as those attributed to evolution and natural selection. Other behaviors Melvin Udall exhibited include his preference for a particular table at a restaurant, his organizing of items by color and hyper-organized packing, and his refusal to step on the cracks of New York sidewalks. While Melvin’s behaviors seemed linked to anxiety, his OCD only manifested as compulsive behaviors. No evidence of obsessive thoughts was dramatized.
Melvin struggled against an undiagnosed antisocial personality disorder throughout the movie as well. Melvin’s narcissistic tendencies manifested in his egotistical actions and his inability to show interest in another’s point of view. This often led to verbally abusive behavior. “Where do they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City “Sailor wanna hump-hump” bar, or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.” – Melvin Udall, As Good As It Gets Myers (2014) described a person suffering from antisocial personality disorder as generally a man who exhibits a lack of conscience for wrongdoing, even toward friends and family members.
Melvin greets each person he interacts with his own sterotyped beliefs regarding their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference and so forth. Nothing he says is considered culturally acceptable. He often hurts the feelings of those he interacts with and is not the least bit affected by the knowledge. At times he seems to know hurting someone’s feelings by his words and actions is wrong, but does not understand why what he said was improper. He has trouble understanding, for example, why his love interest Carol Connelly is offended when he refers to her carefully selected dress as a “house dress”. At other times, he only seeks others out for what they can do for him, but are unwilling to reciprocate any sort of friendship. This is the case when he asks his publicist for a personal favor from her husband to treat Carol’s sick child, but this is unwilling to listen or even pretend to be interested in a story about her own son.
The movie, albeit entertaining, is a poor substitute for education on psychological disorders. Because the only disorder mentioned is OCD, the viewer may be left with the impression that the antisocial behaviors, symptoms of a personality disorder, are a product of the obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder. Melvin’s behaviors begin to normalize toward the end of the movie as he makes closer attachments with several other characters. This may falsely imply to the movie-goer that his psychological disorders are easily treatable or curable. People with mental illnesses suffer from a stigma from the greater community. Unfortunately, this movie perpetuates the dangerous notion that mental illness is something one can take a stance against and overcome through will and action. Mental illness, just like an illness of the body, requires medical intervention.
Mark, L., Sakai, R., Ziskin, L. (Producers), & Brooks, J. L. (Director). (1997) As Good As It Gets
[Motion Picture]. United States: Tristar Pictures.
Myers, D. G. (2014). Exploring Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers