The movie, Secret Window, is a psychological thriller that is based on a novella called Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King. Like most psychological thrillers, the character that has a mental illness is portrayed in a very exaggerated and dramatic way. Some portrayals can be very accurate while others are simply for reeling in the audience. For the purpose of this paper, I will discuss the accuracy of David Koepp’s portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder in the main character of Secret Window, some symptoms that are clear and maybe not so clear, as well as treatment options for DID.
Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as “multiple personality disorder”, is a mental disorder in which a person can adopt up to 100 new identities. Each alter, or different personality/identity, simultaneously coexists with each other. One hundred alters would be an extreme case but around 15 is usually the average. Because identities are only partially independent, the name of the disorder in the DSM-IV changed from multiple personality disorder to Dissociative Identity Disorder.
In some cases, however, the identities can be complete and they each have their own tone of voice and physical gestures. When one personality transitions into another, it is called a switch. Although the switch is usually quick, it may be drawn out and dramatic in movies. Facial expressions, posture, and the voice may change and physical disabilities may even emerge. Before explaining Mort Rainey’s portrayal of this disorder, let’s look at some of the symptoms of DID.
One symptom that is included in DSM-IV-TR criteria is amnesia. Amnesia in this case refers to dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue. Dissociative amnesia is the inability to recall personal information. Dissociative fugue is an inability to recall the past, often featuring a sudden, unexpected travel away from home. In DID, it is relatively unimportant how many personalities exist. The main feature of DID is that certain parts of the person’s identity are dissociated, or separate from one another.
Along with those symptoms, people with DID may experience depression, mood swings, suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, alcohol and drug abuse, compulsions and rituals, and auditory or visual hallucinations. Headaches, time loss, trance, and “out of body experiences” are also not unheard of in people with DID. According to the DSM-IV-TR, the person must meet certain criteria in order to be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
This includes two or more distinct identities or personality states being present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self, at least two of these identities or personality states recurrently taking control of the person’s behavior, the person having an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness, and the disturbance not being due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (such as complex partial seizures). Now that you know more about Dissociative Identity Disorder, I will discuss how it is portrayed in the character, Mort Rainey, in the movie Secret Window. In the movie, Mort Rainey is a famous author. He moves to Tashmore Lake with his dog after finding his wife cheating on him with another man. During the time he is living there, he is in the middle of a divorce with his wife, already making matters worse. Mort feels as though he is not able to write any more.
Every day he spends his time in an isolate cabin feeling worse and worse. One day, a man knocks on his cabin door accusing Mort of plagiarizing his story. The name of this man is John Shooter. Shooter gives his story to Mort to read but Mort rejects the fact that it could be plagiarized because of proof that his story was published in a magazine. John gives Mort three days to prove to him that it was published in a magazine or else he will keep interrupting Mort’s life. Mort realizes that in order to retrieve the magazine that this story is in, he must go to Amy’s house because everything of his is still there. The first warning that Shooter gives Mort is killing his dog; the second is burning Amy’s house.
Mort starts to feel uneasy so he hires an investigator to keep an eye out. Soon enough, however, Shooter murders him as well. Once mort finally retrieves the magazine that his story is in, he realizes that “someone” has removed the pages of Secret Window. For the remainder of the movie, the thoughts that Mort is having in his mind are being said out loud. As someone in the audience, pieces start fitting together and you may soon realize that Shooter is an identity that Mort creates. He ends up killing his own wife and the man she cheated on him with. He buries them both in the garden outside of his cabin. The reason Mort creates Shooter was just that; to kill his own wife for being dishonest and unfaithful.
At one point, a very observant movie watcher may notice that Shooter literally means “shoot her”, referring to shooting Mort’s wife. Let’s take a step back now and discuss everything that has occurred with Mort Rainey in this movie. As I have already stated, Mort has two alters. John Shooter is one and Mort Rainey is the other. At the beginning of the movie, Mort experiences the symptom of depression caused by the divorce and his lack of being able to write. As I had discussed earlier, depression can be one symptom of DID or a co-morbid disorder. Loss of memory is also seen in MortShooter is a mysterious man with a very dark and evil appearance.