Neuropsychology and Medical Disorders

This list contains movies with characters who have neuropsychological or medical disorders/disabilities. The list is being expanded


Abre los ojos (“Open Your Eyes”)
Drama    Year:  1997    Rating: R
Actors: Eduardo Noriega, Penelope Cruz, Cheta Lera
Topics: Psychopathology, Treatment, Stress and Coping
Spanish film told in retrospect as an imprisoned man, whose face is horribly disfigured, tells his story to a psychiatrist. What do you think of his reality testing? Remade as Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise. See this original, instead.

Genre:  Drama    Year:  2009    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology
This is one of the few films dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome in an adult. The portrayal is well-done and the plot is not contrived. Moral of the story – what is abnormal and dysfunctional in one setting may be highly adaptive and prized in another.

Genre:  Drama    Year:  1990    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Julie Kavner
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology, Treatment
Wonderful movie. Based on Oliver Sacks’ clinical cases. L-dopa’s effects on encephalitis lethargica.  Interesting glimpse inside a mental hospital in the 1960s. Why do you think paranoia/psychosis developed after prolonged L-dopa treatment? Neuronal supersensitivity? And what about Dr. Sacks’ interpersonal anxieties – social phobia? Asperger’s?

I Am Sam
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2001      Rating: PG-13
Actors:  Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology, Forensic, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
Sean Penn portrays a man with mental retardation fighting for custody of his 7-year-old child. Sam’s group of friends are entertaining – two are truly developmentally disabled – his close neighbor is agoraphobic. His lawyer is the stereotypical overworked yuppie professional woman, estranged from her family. The film is a classic tearjerker. Despite significant research for the film (watch the supplemental documentary), how realistic were the events? Did he take her to a pediatrician? Did the pediatrician have any concerns about his care? Was that a realistic portrayal of cross-examination of an expert witness? Could Sam really have afforded the apartment at the end in Los Angeles, making somewhere around $8/hour? What really was in the best interest of the child? Was the opposing attorney all that wrong? Many things to consider.

Life as a House
Genre:  Drama     Year:  2001    Rating:  R
Actors:  Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Substance Use Disorders, Stress and Coping, Marital/Family Dynamics
Kevin Klein portrays a man diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 4 months to live. He attempts to rebuild his relationship with his drug-using, life-hating teenage son, while they rebuild a ramshackle house that was his lifelong goal.

Madness of King George, The 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  1994     Rating:  R 
Actors:  Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm 
Topics:  Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders
A great movie. Based on true story of King George of England. Psychosis caused by a metabolic disorder (porphyria). Look out if you start peeing blue!

Genre:  Drama     Year:  2000     Rating:  R
Actors:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Topics:  Neuropsychology
This definitely is a film for those interested in neuropsychology. Leonard has anterograde amnesia (he can’t form new memories). To compensate, he tattoos notes to himself all over his body. He is on a quest to find the person who raped and murdered his wife. You’ll have to watch this one closely to follow the plot – it is told in reverse. The attempt to accurately portray anterograde amnesia should be commended, but there are several points where Leonard acts as if he has “held” a memory longer than could be working memory alone (e.g., he sleeps between the event and writing it down). What else can you find that is inaccurate? What about the failed avoidance learning by the insurance claimant?

My Left Foot 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1989     Rating:  R
Actors:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Alison Whelan
Topics:  Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders, Substance Use Disorders, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics, Stress and Coping
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Great film about childhood misdiagnosis of cerebral palsy as mental retardation and the difficulties adjusting to an adult life with disabilities.

My Own Private Idaho
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1991     Rating:  R
Actors:  Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix, James Russo
Topics:  Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders, Substance Use Disorders
Rare is the film that includes narcolepsy, a sleep disorder involving the sudden onset of sleep (REM stage), lasting seconds to minutes typically. Other symptoms may include cataplexy (where a person may fall to the floor due to sudden loss of muscle tone, typically during times of strong emotions, such as intense laughing), hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations (upon falling asleep or awakening), and sleep paralysis (inability to move for a brief period of time upon awakening). The film tells the tale of two young men (Keanu Reaves and River Phoenix), who are street hustlers, selling sex and taking drugs. The Reaves character is from a rich family and claims this life is only temporary while he attempts to find his biological mother. River Phoenix’s character has narcolepsy, is gay and in love with his friend, and heavily uses drugs, a portrayal made all the more tragic with the death of River Phoenix himself from multiple drug use in 1993.

Niagara, Niagara
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1997     Rating:  R
Actors:  Robin Tunney, Henry Thomas, Michael Parks
Topics:  Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics 
Basically a misfit-lovers-on-the-road film, but with a twist – or should I say twitch? The young woman has Tourette’s syndrome. Both she and the young man (they met while both shoplifting) have dysfunctional families and the standard “no one who understands them.” Robin Tunney does a great job with her tics and coprolalia (compulsive swearing). Here’s a trivia question – in what very famous film was her partner, Henry Thomas, as child? Watch the documentary “Twitch and Shout” for more information about Tourette’s.

Of Mice and Men
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1992     Rating:  R
Actors:  John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Ray Walston
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Personality Disorders, Moral Development
The classic Steinbeck story directed by and starring Gary Sinise. Story of two cousins during the depression, working to get by – George with his brains, Lenny with his brawn. Consider the diagnosis of Curly’s wife (never named in the film or book)? The end of this story never fails to get me teary ‘”tell me about the rabbits…” Read the book, too.

On Golden Pond 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  1981     Rating:  PG
Actors:  Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Marital/Family Dynamics
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Actress. Beautiful story of enduring love in an elderly couple, the husband’s suffering from the early stages of dementia, and its effect on family members. Acting doesn’t get much better than this.

Paris, Texas
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1984     Rating:  R
Actors:  Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Berry, Berhard Wicki
Topics:  Psychopathology, Dissociative Disorders, Neuropsychology, Marital/Family Dynamics
Unusual movie about a man who wanders out of the desert with amnesia for his past. He is reunited with his brother, slowly his memory returns, he develops a relationship with his son, and eventually he finds his wife. How do you interpret the ending?

Genre:  Drama     Year:  1998     Rating:  R
Actors:  Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology
An early film by Darren Aronofsky, who has since made his name with The Wrestler and Black Swan. This film is ripe for interpretation – intentionally left that way by the writer/director. The parallels with “Clean, Shaven” and “A Beautiful Mind” are readily apparent, but is this a portrayal of schizophrenia? How consistent are his symptoms/behaviors with temporal lobe epilepsy, hmmm?  The bonus feature about the making of the movie give a glimpse into film-making on a shoestring budget, not likely to be a problem for Aronofsky anymore!

Quiet Room, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1996     Rating:  PG
Actors:  Celine O’Leary, Paul Blackwell, Chloe Ferguson
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dynamics
Australian film about a troubled 7-year-old girl who becomes mute in reaction to her divorcing parents’ fighting. The film is from inside the girl’s mind, as we hear her thoughts and comments on what is happening around her.

Rain Man 
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1988     Rating:  R
Actors:  Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Marital/Family Dynamics
Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Actor. Excellent portrayal of autism in adulthood and associated family stresses. Wonderful movie.

Regarding Henry

Genre:  Drama     Year:  1991     Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Harrison Ford, Annette Benning, Michael Haley
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Marital/Family Dynamics
Harrison Ford portrays a survivor of a brain injury. Accurate? I wonder how real survivors feel about this portrayal. Consider his personality pre and post the brain injury.

Safe House 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1998     Rating:  R 

Actors:  Patrick Stewart, Kimberly Williams, Hector Elizondo
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Treatment
Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek Next Generation fame) believes that he is an ex-government intelligence agent who is the only living witness to a cover-up that might allow a corrupt senator to become president. He needs to stay alive long enough to bring out the truth, while both the killers and his Alzheimer’s disease are out to get him. Although it is a bit uneven (sometimes campy humor, sometimes quite serious), it is entertaining and has significant content related to Alzheimer’s disease and its impact.

Sling Blade
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1996     Rating:  R
Actors:  Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J. T. Walsh
Topics:  Neuropsychology, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics 
A very interesting film, although somewhat predictable. What do you think the main character’s diagnoses would include? And how about when he left the state hospital – no such thing as discharge planning? Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as the long-term psychiatric inpatient. 

Still Alice
Genre: Drama     Year:  2014     Rating:  R
Actors:  Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart
Topics: Neuropsychology, Marital/Family Dynamics
This Academy Award winning film portrays the development of early Alzheimer’s disease in a university linguistics professor. The character is only age 50, so this is described as “atypical.” The maintenance of insight through much of the decline seems inconsistent with the more traditional pattern. Family dynamics include variations in levels of support. Missing from the film was any referral for psychotherapy for Alice or her family. While Moore’s portrayal was good acting, the lack of character development is keeping this one off my favorites list.


Genre:  Drama    Year:  2005    Rating:  R
Actors:  Lou Taylor Pucci, Keanu Reeves
Topics:  Developmental, Marital/Family Dynamics, Treatment
This uneven film has some bright moments. It is the story of a teenage boy who still sucks his thumb. He is experiencing a variety of stresses and is treated by his unorthodox dentist (Reaves) and receives school counseling. He is prescribed Ritalin and finds that he then is able to focus to read, grades and self-confidence improve, etc. Was it a placebo? Is so, what accounted for the transformation?

Tic Code, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1999     Rating:  R
Actors:  Chris Marquette, Polly Draper, Carol Kane
Topics:  Neuropsychology (Tourette’s)
Story of a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome who becomes an underage jazz pianist. He pairs up with an accomplished sax player who, ironically, also has Tourette’s and has developed strategies for covering up the symptoms. Interesting contradictions in how each of them views the disorder and the associated stigma. Think about parallels between Tourette’s and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Unstrung Heroes
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1995     Rating:  PG
Actors:  Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards
Topics:  Psychopathology, Anxiety Disorders, Personality Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
Andie MacDowell portrays a dying woman with a young son, married to an eccentric inventor. The two oddball uncles (one’s paranoid, one’s a hoarder) come through for the boy with some remarkable insights and wisdom.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  1993     Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Johnny Depp, Leonardo diCaprio, Juliette Lewis
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Neuropsychology, Developmental, Marital/Family Dynamics, Stress and Coping
Slice of life film, with Johnny Depp as the young adult caring for his family – a depressed, morbidly obese mother, a brother with a developmental disorder, and two sisters. Somehow, he manages it all. Good movie.