In the 2003 film “Gothika” Halle Berry plays a psychiatrist who loses her memory and wakes up in an insane asylum, the same one where she had previously been a staff physician. She is confused, disoriented and has lost time. Pete, a psychiatrist played by Robert Downey Jr. , is the doctor assigned to her care and Doug, her husband, had been the doctor in charge of the facility. Miranda, Berry’s character, eventually learns that her husband has been killed and that she has been arrested and charged with his murder (Kassovitz, 2003).
From the very beginning, the movie pretends to psychology right. But unfortunately, it is largely just pretending. The first problem in the movie occurs with the description of Miranda’s psychotic break and the actions leading to it. The doctors caring for Miranda argue that her mental illness resulted from her accident, not the other way around. At first, they simply explain her illness as a traumatic amnesia brought on by the horror of murdering her husband. Or, they allege, the amnesia might be related to the head injury from the car accident and unrelated to her mental condition.
Her doctor also asks her about drugs that she may have taken to cause the violence (killing her husband) or her amnesia. While it is appropriate to be concerned about a drug-related cause for amnesia (Merck, 2007) it is unreasonable to believe that those involved in her treatment would not have conducted blood tests to detect drug use prior to the questioning. The movie tells us Miranda has been out of touch with her mind for three days when she awakens in the asylum, so the mere idea that they would not have conducted blood tests and have the results back by then seems implausible.
The next major mistake the movie makes in its portrayal of Miranda’s mental illness and treatment is that Pete is assigned to do her evaluation. While it can be argued that in some areas he might be the only doctor available, as one is dead and another accused of the murder, the story came before the reality of treatment standards in the movie. It seems as though Berry’s character may even recognize this as she tries to get a handle on her relationship with Pete, asking him if they had an affair or wanted to have one (Kassovitz, 2003).
This immediately calls into question the ethics of the doctor and the accuracy of any judgment he makes regarding her condition. The film then tries to confuse the viewer with the question of whether Miranda is suffering some sort of psychotic break ro is truly being haunted by ghosts. From a diagnostic perspective, Miranda’s symptoms include the fugue when she was admitted, her loss of memory, and eventually, though she is loathe to admit this to her doctor, seeing and hearing her “ghost”. (Kassovitz, 2003).
The film even goes so far as to have Miranda address her hallucination, saying “: I am a rational person. I believe in science. I don’t believe in the paranormal, and I don’t believe in ghosts. But if you are the ghost of Rachel Parsons, can you let me out of this cell? ” (Kassovitz, 2003). The professionals, upon hearing her tale of seeing ghosts, move right from a diagnosis of traumatic amnesia to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, skipping right part delusional. This is not accurate in the least. First, there is Miranda’s statement regarding her interaction with the ghost.
She is still logical enough to know that interaction with a ghost is unreasonable and generally accepted as a mental dysfunction. “Schizophrenia is characterized by psychosis (loss of contact with reality), hallucinations (false perceptions), delusions (false beliefs), disorganized speech and behavior, flattened affect (restricted range of emotions), cognitive deficits (impaired reasoning and problem solving), and occupational and social dysfunction. ” (Merck, 2007) If she were schizophrenic, it is unlikely that she would have retained her logical mind enough to realize that she was being illogical.
The fact that her educated mind could still identify her behaviors as irrational is one of the clearest indicators that she was not suffering from the cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. Next, there is the appearance of the ghost herself. If Miranda’s delusions had been limited to fleeting images or auditory hallucinations, her symptoms would have been consistent with schizophrenia. However, the presence of an identifiable visual hallucination makes the illness more in line with the symptoms of delusional disorders than schizophrenia (Allpsych, 2007).
“A delusion is a belief that is clearly false and that indicates an abnormality in the affected person’s content of thought. The false belief is not accounted for by the person’s cultural or religious background or his or her level of intelligence. The key feature of a delusion is the degree to which the person is convinced that the belief is true. A person with a delusion will hold firmly to the belief regardless of evidence to the contrary. Delusions can be difficult to distinguish from overvalued ideas, which are unreasonable ideas that a person holds, but the affected person has at least some level of doubt as to its truthfulness.
A person with a delusion is absolutely convinced that the delusion is real. ” (Mind Disorders, 2007). The simple truth is that if Miranda had been suffering from either of these mental disorders, her symptoms would have 1) been more extreme in the case of schizophrenia or 2) come with a total belief in her delusion. She would no longer question whether ghosts were real. The final implied diagnosis of the film is that Miranda has been suffering abuse at the hands of a sadistic and manipulative serial killer who also happens to be her husband.
Once the ghost leads Miranda to her husband’s torture and abuse chamber, the viewer is left with the impression that Miranda’s mental illness including the delusion of seeing the ghost was her mind’s way of dealing with the threat from her husband and becoming strong enough to deal with his abuse. This is complete and utter Hollywood tripe. While it is possible for battered woman to lose control and kill her husband in a situation where she fears for her life, Miranda’s symptoms are completely out of sync with the typical description of BWS (McElroy, 2002).
Most likely, this was an attempt by the writer to draw sympathy for the character that did, in fact, kill her husband. If the movie had intended to portray mental illness in an appropriate fashion, it simply would have to stop with the obvious ghost story. The problem was that the writer wanted to create a story in which a ghost was used to explain away mental illness or a mental illness was sued to explain away an encounter with the supernatural. Either way, they failed. By showing the viewer the ghost, the viewer does not question Miranda’s sanity.
After all, we’ve seen it too. To be more in tune with the diagnosis they were most likely going for, schizophrenia, the movie should have relied on an unseen presence and given perfectly reasonable explanations for things that happen, i. e. show Pete leaving her cell unlocked so that she an escape and conduct her investigation. As it is, the film fails as a ghost story and fails as a psychological thriller. Had it been done properly, it could have succeeded at both.
“Delusions” <http://www. minddisorders. com/Br-Del/Delusions. html>, November 18, 2007. Kassovitz, Mathieu (Director) and Sebastian Guitierrez (Writer). “Gothika”. USA:Columbia Pictures, 2003. McElroy, Wendy. “Battered Women’s Syndrome: Science or Sham? ” The Independent Institute, October 28, 2002< http://www. independent. org/aboutus/person_detail. asp? id=488> November 18, 2007. “Prognosis and Treatment”, <http://www. merck. com/mmpe/index. html> November 19, 2007. Psychotic Disorders , < http://allpsych. com/disorders/psychotic/index. html>, November 18, 2007.
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