Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, DSM code 300. 3, is a mental disorder that impairs an individual because they are “so preoccupied with order, perfection, and control that they lose all flexibility, openness, and efficiency” according to the book Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology Sixth Edition by Ronald J. Comer. The patient’s obsessions can render them completely irrational in their thought process and this irrationality effects the person’s subsequent actions.
A compulsion is the actions that the patient takes to bring peace of mind and escape the turmoil the obsession has caused; this action is usually repetitive in nature. “Common compulsions include washing, counting, checking, requesting assurance, or repeating actions” (Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Rehabilitation by Patrick W. Corrigan).
The movie “As Good As It Gets” features a character named Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) who plays a wealthy book writer who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which I will simply call O. C. D. for the duration of this paper. Melvin is shown having a really difficult time with day to day life due to his condition and lack of self control.
Melvin was experiencing a variety of symptoms due to his O. C. D. diagnosis. For instance; Mr. Udall had an obvious issue with germs which, as previously mentioned, is a common symptom for this illness. He was constantly on the lookout for possible contamination. When he would dine out, he would take his own plastic eating utensils so he didn’t have to use the ones provided at the dinner.
He also used the sleeves of his shirts to open and close doors in order to avoid touching the door handle. Melvin also went out of his way to avoid physical contact with other people due to his obsession of picking up germs. In the movie, while at his favorite dinner, his preferred waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) was trying to get by him and she touched his jacket. Melvin was visually disturbed by this interaction.
Also, while walking down the street, not only did Melvin avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk (which is supposed to be bad luck), but he would yell at passing walkers “don’t touch!! in order to avoid contamination. Another example of this is Mr. Udalls hand washing habits. During the movie he is shown washing his hands. When he opened his medicine cabinet you could see neat stacks of brand new bars of soap. To wash his hands, Melvin would open a new bar, lather his hands for only a few seconds, throw the bar of soap away and then rinse. He would repeat this process and throw away two perfectly good bars of soap to wash his hands one time.
Melvin’s obsession with contamination also put limitations on things he enjoyed, which ultimately is the biggest problem with O. C. D. is that, you can’t enjoy life to the fullest capacity. In the movie, Mr. Udall was tasked with the job of taking care of his neighbor Simon’s dog, and later walking the dog, while Simon recovered from a brutal home invasion where he was severely beaten. Although Melvin came to love the dog, he still let his O. C. D. rule over him how much he could enjoy the dog. He would use plastic gloves to pick up the dog and if the dog jumped up in his lap, like when he was trying to prove the dog’s loyalty to Simon, he would throw his hands up; unable to embrace the dog he cared so dearly for.
Melvin eventually began to have a liking for Carol but his obsession with germs not only caused him to exhibit unnatural behavior, which ruined any deep or meaningful interactions he could have had with her or others, his outbursts and rude tone made him almost unbearable to deal with which, initially, didn’t paint him in a good way to her or anybody he encountered; his life was extremely stunted socially. Melvin often times found it difficult to control himself and the things he said.
He would often scream at people who didn’t do what he wanted when he wanted, and also was prone to saying very rude and hurtful things to people he knew and to strangers. For example, Melvin was not happy when he learned that Carol took time off from work to nurture her ill son, Spencer. When the replacement waitress told him this he demanded she go get his regular waitress and pounded his fist on the table and loudly screamed “Now! ” alarming the waitress and the other customers in the dinner. As a result of his irrational behavior Melvin was asked to leave the dinner.
That wouldn’t be the first time he insulted somebody at the dinner; a place that he needed to go to daily just to feel normal. His compulsions cost him something he needed for daily assurance, which shows you how powerful these compulsions are and how hard it is for the patient to control them. The irrational thoughts are just that potent and strong. Melvin was seeing a therapist in an attempt to get a grip on his condition but his irrational behavior and unwillingness to take medications prescribed inhibited his recovery as was obvious when, without an appointment, he forced his way into his therapist’s office and demanded a session.
Another classic symptom of O. C. D. is compulsive counting. Melvin displayed this behavior quite often in the movie. In the very beginning of the film, you witness Melvin enter his apartment. When he shuts the door he locks and unlocks the door five times for each dead bolt on the door. It appeared as though he even followed a similar pattern of locking and unlocking the door when opening it for a visitor. After he was finished with the door he walked over to his light switch and turned his light off and on five times.
This kind of behavior continued pretty consistently throughout the film. It was very obvious that Melvin was suffering from a very severe bout of O. C. D. Two etiological theories I think could account for how Melvin ended up with O. C. D. are genetics and environment. “While there is no known specific cause for OCD, family history and chemical imbalances in the brain are thought to contribute to the development of the illness” (MedicineNet. com).
With that said I do believe genetics could have played a role in Melvin’s O. C. D. ecause he mentions having a really unstable father saying “My father didn’t come out of his room for 11 years. He used to hit me on the hand with a yard stick if I made a mistake on the piano. ”(As Good as It Gets); if his father had emotional instability he could have very well passed it on to his son. Second is environment. Melvin alludes to the fact that his household growing up was filled with turmoil and abuse.
This negative environment could be a contributing factor in Melvin’s mental illness. Some positive messages I feel the movie sent in regards to having O. C. D. was that you can change and have a normal life and that taking your prescribed medicine can help with the illness and change. Even if your case is as severe as Melvin’s, if you want change it can happen. Melvin came to a realization that he wanted to be happy and live a normal life and he took steps to begin that process.
Also many patients write off medication before they even give it a try and I think this movie sent a good message about taking medication. Some negative messages I feel the movie gave away was fearing people with O. C. D. ith the violent outbursts Melvin had and stigma. Melvin was extremely rude and made no apologies for it. I feel this was a bit extreme and could possibly add to existing fear people already have of mentally ill people. Also the portrayal could possible add to the negative stigma that surrounds mental health patients today.
- As Good as It Gets. Dir. James L. Brooks. Perf. Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. TriStar Pictures, 1997. DVD.
- Comer, Ronald J. “Personality Disorders. ” Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, Sixth Edition. New York: Worth Pub. 2011. 420. Print.
- Corrigan, Patrick W. , Kim T. Mueser, Gary R. Bond, Robert E. Drake, and Phyllis Soloman. “Anxiety Disorders. ” Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Rehabilitation: An Empirical Approach. New York: Guilford, 2008. 17. Print.
- Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. ” MedicineNet. N. p. , n. d. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://www. medicinenet. com/obsessive_compulsive_disorder_ocd/page3. htm>.
- Article last reviewed by editor on 10/13/12. Psychopathology in the Movies: As Good As It Gets Tereza Cameron Abnormal Psychology