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A Fatal Attraction – Borderline Personality Disorder in the Movies


Alex's rage eventually escalates into violence.

Image via Wikipedia

Borderline Personality Disorder has only been represented in a few movies, although there are lots that are claimed to show the condition those that really are about BPD are few.

I have watched the two biggest, most well known representations of BPD on the big screen – Fatal Attraction and Girl, Interrupted. I will give you my opinion on how well (or not) I feel the condition is represented in both shortly but first let’s consider which movies it is claimed that BPD is represented in and whether or not it is actually BPD or another mental health condition that is being shown…

On Wikipedia there is a list of films that featuring mental illnesses, under the category ‘Borderline Personality Disorder‘ these are the listed films:

So, let’s look at each in turn (my opinion may not be valid on some as I have not seen them)

Fountainhead – (I have not seen the film or read the book of the same title). From reading the Wikipedia entry about this film it appears  the character who is portrayed as having BPD is Dominque Francon:

Dominique Francon is the heroine of The Fountainhead, described by Rand as “the woman for a man like Howard Roark.” Dominique is the daughter of Guy Francon, a highly successful but creatively inhibited architect. She is a thorn in the flesh of her father and causes him much distress for her works criticizing the architectural profession’s mediocrity. Peter Keating is employed by her father, and her intelligence, insight and observations are above his. It is only through Roark that her love of adversity and autonomy meets a worthy equal. These strengths are also what she initially lets stifle her growth and make her life miserable. She begins thinking that the world did not deserve her sincerity and intellect, because the people around her did not measure up to her standards. She starts out punishing the world and herself for all the things about man which she despises, through self-defeating behavior. She initially believes that greatness, such as Roark’s, is doomed to fail and will be destroyed by the ‘collectivist’ masses around them. She eventually joins Roark romantically, but before she can do this, she must learn to join him in his perspective and purpose. (source: wikipedia)

Without having seen the film or read the book I think it is possible that this would be quite well representative of BPD as the character does seem to have a lot of the traits of BPD, how well this is demonstrated and whether it is presented fairly remain to be seen – but I will be adding this to my to be read/watched list, as I would like to find out!

Cover of "Play Misty for Me [Region 2]"

Play Misty for Me – I may have seen this a long time ago, not sure to be honest. Regardless the thing that worries me with this one is that the female character (again) is a dangerously, obsessed stalker (like in Fatal Attraction) now while I admit to having been a bit OTT with near stalkerish behaviour myself (as a BPD sufferer myself) the way these films represent this element as though it is the key behaviour of a person with BPD is very misleading and stigmatizing. Portraying us as dangerous, psychopaths actually makes me question whether this and even Fatal Attraction are actually showing BPD or a more dangerous mental health condition, as the majority of BPD sufferers are not murderously dangerous – any more so than the rest of the general population. So, these kind of films do worry me.

Fatal Attraction – I recently re-watched this film with my ex-fiance as he wanted to see if it did represent BPD as claimed. We both felt that to a degree much of the behaviour exhibited by Glenn Closes’s character Alex could be classified as BPD but also (as with Play Misty for Me) some of the behaviours went far beyond that, especially the horrific bunny boiling stuff and attempting to kill everyone, again far more psychopathic than BPD.

Poison Ivy – And yet again (yes, I’ve seen the film and it’s sequels) another ‘crazy’ girl embeds herself into people’s lives in a violent, manipulative way using sex and murder to try and have what she wants.  It is a great film to watch but I don’t think if Ivy has BPD that this is a fair representation again.

Single White Female – Another one I have seen, the character ‘Hedy’ (Ellen) has been cited as an example of borderline personality disorder in ‘Robinson DJ. Reel Psychiatry:Movie Portrayals of Psychiatric Conditions. Port Huron, Michigan: Rapid Psychler Press. p. 235. ISBN 1-894328-07-8.’ . She suffers from a markedly disturbed sense of identity, and tries to remedy it by adopting wholesale the attributes of her roommate. It is implied that she feels a deep-seated emptiness, while her fear of abandonment leads to drastic measures. But, yet again the character goes above and beyond what is classified as a BPD diagnosis to the point of being so violent, manipulative and ultimately murderous, not good.

The Crush – I haven’t seen this one but from the plot descriptions it seems to be another mirror image of most of the films above. Adrienne, a 14 year old girl develops a ‘crush’ and things spiral out of control with attempted murder and flase rape claims amongst the dangerous, manipulative behaviour demonstrated. Another disturbing portrayal.

Mad Love – Not seen. Now this one actually specifies that the condition Casey suffers is likely to be BPD or Bipolar Disorder. I want to see this one as while it does not look like a great film in itself it looks like it might actually give a fair representation of BPD and warrants further examination!

Cover of "The Cable Guy [Region 2]"

The Cable Guy – I did see this when it came out and I hated it, but that might just be because I don’t like Jim Carey! lol anyway it makes a change for the character to be male, but other than that it is again freakily scary behaviour that is the main focus, and again in my opinion the character is suffering so much more than BPD!

Fear – Another I haven’t seen, and another with a male alleged BPD character. David definitely seems to be more ASPD and psycho than BPD to me from reading the plot of this film. I would like to see this one as well to see just how ‘mad’ the character really is. I don’t think this is BPD at all though.

Cover of "Girl, Interrupted"

Girl, Interrupted – This is ‘the’ classic, genuine BPD film in the set. Susanna Kasen was actually a real BPD sufferer. The film is not the best and while a genuine example of BPD I don’t think it actually shows enough of how difficult living with BPD is, almost making it look like ‘why is this girl in a mental hospital?’ as she seems a bit too ‘normal’ and she also seems to have a ‘complete’ recovery. But as it is a genuine portrayal of one woman’s real experience with the condition I will let it off (though I must read the book to see if t goes into more detail!) after all we do all have different experiences of living with BPD and this was an experience in the 1960’s so life was very different then in itself!

Swimming Pool – this is another one I now want to see, but after reading the plot and the deliberately ambiguous ending to the film that is described I think  this does not seem to have any indicators of BPD for either of the women (Sarah and Julie) in fact with the one possible interpretation at the end being that Sarah was alone and that Julie was not real is that it could be a film representing a condition such as dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Notes on a Scandal – I can’t actually believe I haven’t seen this one! It seems like the potential BPD sufferer is Barbara, the main character, but it could equally be that the object of her desires Sheba (who s having an affair with her pupil) could be suffering some mental illness too. It sounds like a very interesting film that could well be demonstrating some BPD traits and thankfully with much less of the violent, nasty portrayal of more of the other films listed here. Definitely another one worth checking out to know for sure.

Cover of "The Tracey Fragments"

The Tracey Fragments – Another film based on a book, both of which I have not experienced. there does not seem to be a lot of detail available about either (including reviews on Amazon) to get a clear sense of whether Tracey has BPD or not, she clearly has issues but what they are remains to be seen when I watch the film or read the book…

Chloe – Not seen. reading the plot for this one doesn’t really make it seem like there is a lot of mental illness even occurring in the storyline as it is more about the development of a lesbian relationship and affairs, but I guess I will have to watch it to find out!

Black Swan – Now I have to say when I watched this I did feel the character seemed to have quite a few BPD traits but she also seemed to have a few too many delusions, and I have been informed by a psychiatrist that this film actually portrays the onset of schizophrenia not BPD, although many of the behaviours shown have an overlap. So, on the basis of a medical opinion on this one I will go with that, it’s schizophrenia, not BPD.

Conclusion:

Trying to review these films (watched or not) has led me to become very upset at the way BPD is portrayed in the movies, I really do not think that BPD is as bad as what these films show, actually I am not convinced that you could even call most of these characters people with BPD, it seems to be something much worse to me.

There seem to be some common features of the films listed as featuring BPD the characters are often portrayed as having almost all of these traits: female, stalkers, pathological liars, manipulative, attention seeking, no sense of guilt, no empathy, no remorse, dangerous, murderous, suicidal, self-harmers, callous, impulsive, promiscuous, criminal and much more. Now while some of these are BPD traits many of them are not, actually being more sociopathic or psychopathic in nature – hence overall I am not convinced that the true condition being portrayed in many of these films is BPD at all.

A few other films (not discussed above) that ‘may’ have a BPD feature include:

Gaslight

Midnight Lace

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Mommie Dearest

The Ex

Anywhere But Here

Drop Dead Gorgeous

25 comments on “A Fatal Attraction – Borderline Personality Disorder in the Movies

  1. I love that you posted this! I agree with you on many. I wanted to make a point about Girl, Interrupted. I felt also, that movie portrayed it well, just not enough. The book is excellent, except you’ll be rather surprised. Most people expect to read it and have it be set up like the movie. But really, it’s just random bits and pieces about her life before she knew she had BPD, quite a bit from the hosptial (including a few things from the movie, but they really put Hollywood into the movie), they have original documents from the hospital, and her road to recovery. It’s fantastic and at times confusing but it really puts into light how we are and how our mind twists things and such. The comment you made about her seeming too normal- I agree completely. We’re good at pretending and hiding it, but they made it seem as if she never had any root to it all.

    Sorry for the long comment. I just really like this post. I could have gone on like this on half the other movies as well, but I won’t be too annoying. (;Thanks for sharing! Stay lovely!

    • Thanks for the great comment Lexi, I must read the book as I haven’t had chance yet (it’s in my to be read pile). Yes, I would agree that we are good at hiding it, but that wouldn’t make for a good movie as it does just make us look normal, lol. Don’t worry about the length of comment, I’ve had some that are like blog posts in themselves! hehe xx

      • Haha I agree completely about making it look normal, I just think they figure that was what people would like to see. Although it is rather incorrect! Ha! I have many comments like those- sometimes longer than the posts itself. ;) have a good day.

  2. Hey Sharon – I follow another blog written by someone with BPD. Her posts are pretty gripping. http://gypsy116.wordpress.com is the blog.

    I have seen a few of these movies.
    Fatal Attraction: I’d say she is psychopathic/sociopathic for sure.
    Single White Female: Maybe? Jennifer Jason Leigh seems to have a serious issue with abandonment.

    I agree with you about the traits. Most of them really are that of a sociopath/psychopath.

    From what I can tell (and I don’t know you personally) you and the other chic whose blog I follow are pretty awesome.

    Question: how would you have BPD portrayed in a character?

    See you around, Sharon! :)

    • I also follow Gypsy, I love how candid her posts are!

      Yeah, while a lot of them seem to have some BPD traits they just go above and beyond what BP’s are generally capable of.

      That is a good question, I will have to think about that – maybe I can come back with an answer as a blog post! :)

  3. Glenn Closes’s character Alex has Antisocial Personality disorder with Borderline Features.

    Blanche DuBois, from “Streetcar” has both Borderline and Histrionic traits, alcohol dependency and after being raped has a psychotic episode.

    Stanley Kowalski, the rapist, has Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Antisocial Features.

    I’m not sure if Susanna Kasen, from “Girl Interrupted” had BPD but I’m pretty sure Winona Ryder does.

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  10. I recently watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s and wondered if Audrey Hepburn’s character might be borderline. Of course, it is thought that Audrey herself was borderline, which is interesting.

    Also, I haven’t watched the movie yet, but over the summer I read Gone With the Wind, and though I couldn’t stand Scarlett O’Hare, I could definitely see some BPD showing through in her behaviors. The ending especially crushed me, because I have been in a similar situation not too long ago with my partner, and luckily for me we had a happier ending (so far).

    Thank you for the interesting post, I’ll have to watch some of these movies!

  11. Really nice to see the list with actual reflection attached to them. I was recently diagnosed with BPD (along with bipolarity and ADD) and I’ve been wanting to see movies with believable characters that I could relate to. In all the movies I’ve watched so far where the character is claimed to be borderline, I just feel like I’m being slapped in the face.

    The movies I’ve seen always portray all the scary stereotypes. Stalkers with no sense of reality that have no empathy. This is not how I experience BPD at all. I recently watched Single White Female and Chloe and both of the movies include subtle hints of BPD such as how strongly the characters react to rejection. Their reactions however go so far beyond the line of what is believable. It scares me to think this is how people might look at the BPD diagnosis :/

    I’m terribly jealous, a bit paranoid, self destructive and sometimes manipulative, but never EVER does this show since a huge part of my personality does everything to hide these sides of myself. Lack of empathy is something I’ve never heard associated with BPD and even though some of these movies are good as entertainment they really make me sad while thinking they were trying to portray a diagnosis that is so stigmatized and misunderstood already. As if it’s not difficult enough trying to cope with extreme emotions without people thinking it makes us into complete psychos that murder everyone that offends us.

    Long comment, had to get it all out :P
    Great post!

    • Thanks enm, there isn’t much that portrays BPD well but I guess the entertainment factor of focussing on the ‘worst case scenario’ of the stalkrish and dangerous types makes for more interesting viewing hence why these things are bought out more in films :/

  12. I haven’t read a lot of the comments but have you seen the Silver Linings Playbook? with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence? When I first saw it I thought that the character Lawrence plays (Tiffany Maxwell) might have been borderline but they never say exactly what she has. Good movie though, very extreme characters all around :)

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  14. Most of these aren’t examples of Borderline Personality. But narcissistic personality disorder (covert narcissism). At the higher end of the spectrum of narcissistic personality is the psychopath. Not only are they liars and manipulators, they can’t feel. Something like Fear,and Poison Ivy and Single W Female are examples of people with this disorder. NOT borderline. Borderlines are more emotionally abusive i.e holding someone hostage emotionally by threatening suicide versus murdering someone.

    • Thanks for clarifying that Vanessa, indeed the lying, manipulation and lack of feeling is not something I tend to associate with the majority of Borderlines. Most borderlines are not ‘intentionally’ emotionally abusive, the suicidal gestures are in the main (I admit there are exceptions, but they are the minority) very personal and not intended to affect others.

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