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:
- The Fountainhead (1949)
- Play Misty for Me (1971)
- Fatal Attraction (1987)
- Poison Ivy (1992)
- Single White Female (1992)
- The Crush (1993)
- Mad Love (1995)
- The Cable Guy (1996)
- Fear (1996)
- Girl, Interrupted (1999)
- Swimming Pool (2003)
- Allein (Germany, 2004) (no film details available for discussion here)
- Notes on a Scandal (2006)
- The Tracey Fragments (2007)
- Chloe (2009)
- Black Swan (2010)
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Splitting – Unstable Relationships in Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Controlling the Extreme Emotions of BPD (neumannpsychology.wordpress.com)
- What happens when a person with BPD ends a relationship (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Positive Feedback from someone with BPD (matthewkelleherbpd.wordpress.com)
- Do Borderlines lack Empathy? (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Impulsivity and Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Unstable Moods in Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Boredom and Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)