Mood Disorders


Genre:  Comedy/Drama    Year:  2002    Rating:  R
Actors:  Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Mood Disorder
Nicholas Cage plays identical twin brothers with very different personalities. The protagonist, Charlie, is a screenwriter with writer’s block. He also has great difficulty in social interactions. Consider the diagnostic criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder as you watch this. The voiceovers of his internal dialogue are great. The ending is disappointing, but the movie is entertaining throughout. Both Charlie and Meryl Streep’s character have negative moods. Diagnostic considerations?

American Splendor   
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  2003    Rating:  R
Actors:  Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Hope Davis
Topics:  Psychopathology, Depression, Marital/Family Dynamics, Personality Disorder
Very interesting and unique film. Drags a bit at the end, though. Story of Harvey Pekar’s life (he’s the “poster child” for the DSM-III according to his wife). Full of characters with quirks (psychopathology?) who are still functioning in their lives. My favorite is Toby, the self-proclaimed nerd (pronounced “nyerd”) who is autistic. Having worked in a VA hospital, I can attest that the climate in the file room is right on the mark!

An Angel at My Table
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1990    Rating:  R
Actors:  Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson
Topics:  Psychopathology, Treatment, Personality Disorder, Mood Disorders, Stress and Coping
Autobiography of a New Zealand poet who was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and spent 8 years in a mental hospital. Disturbing portrayals of treatment at the time – ECT, start of leucotomies. Consider her personality issues – Avoidant? Social Phobia? Another case where art, in this case writing, allows her to tolerate the traumas of her life.

Autumn Leaves
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1956    Rating:  NR
Actors:  Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson, Vera Miles
Topics:  Psychopathology, Treatment, Depression
Joan Crawford as the older woman who marries a younger man after a whirlwind romance, only to  discover that he is mentally unbalanced. Should she have him committed? This film lends itself to a Freudian interpretation, as well.

Bad Timing
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1980    Rating:  R
Actors:  Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Treatment
This modern film-noir type movie has been hated by some – e.g., the original distribution company  removed its logo and called it “a sick movie made by sick people for sick people.”  Well, I didn’t think it was THAT bad – I’ve certainly seen worse, but I’m not inclined to watch it again.  The film is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with current time, making it a bit hard to follow.  By the end, though, you have a sense of where the psychopathologies lie.  In addition to the personality disorder issues, what about the psychiatrist’s blatant disregard for confidentiality and the inappropriate use of testing?  If he is a “research psychoanalyst” in Vienna, does that change the ethics requirement, even if he most likely was trained in the United States? And, yes, the actor is Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel fame.

Don’t Bother to Knock 
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1952    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Anne Bancroft
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders
This is not a well-known film and was not a critics’ favorite; however, I enjoyed it and believe that in its short 76 minutes it gives plenty of material to digest.  Marilyn Monroe plays a young girl hired for the first time to babysit a child at a hotel, as recommended by her uncle, the elevator operator.  As the movie progresses, we learn that she was recently released from a mental institution, “almost cured,” almost being the operative word.  I enjoyed the movie  and Monroe’s performance.  Consider suggestions of her childhood experiences, the concept of diathesis-stress in the onset of  psychopathology, and the possible personality disorder present.

Girl, Interrupted 
Genre:  Drama      Year: 1999      Rating:  R
Actors:  Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders, Treatment
Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress. I really enjoyed this movie! I suspect that the “Borderline” diagnosis given to Susanna more appropriately refers to her psychotic depression, with the former use of the term referring to the zone between neurosis and psychosis, i.e., on the “borderline” of psychosis. “Lisa” demonstrates a good manic, and seems more of today’s “Borderline Personality Disorder” than the movie’s Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis. What do you think?

Harold and Maude
Genre:  Drama/Comedy      Year:  1971      Rating:  PG
Actors:  Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
A rich, 20-year-old man obsessed with death meets an elderly woman at a funeral and develops his first meaningful relationship. Involves faked suicides, and a real one, but are the characters actually depressed?

Hours, The 
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2002      Rating:  R
Actors:  Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dysfunction, Developmental, Stress and Coping
Academy Award winner for Best Actress (Nicole Kidman). One of the best portrayals of the painful depths and hopelessness of depression and its effects on others. Nicole Kidman portrays Virginia Woolf, who is writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway, while another woman is reading the book in the 1950s, and a third present day woman is living it. All three lives have parallels of depression and suicide. Fantastic portrayal of the impact of depression on family members and the power of endogenous depression. What motivates the suicides portrayed in the film? See my article on the topic.

I Never Sang for my Father
Genre:  Drama      Year:      1970      Rating:  PG
Actors:  Melvyn Douglas, Gene Hackman, Dorothy Stickney
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
Depressing film about a man’s relationship with his elderly father and the stresses involved in caring for him. Adjustment Disorder, with Mixed Emotional Features, Chronic?

Lethal Weapon
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1987    Rating:   R
Actors:  Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders
The first of the cop buddy series has a suicidal Mel Gibson paired with Danny Glover. Not many cops would want a partner with a death wish…Exciting, action flick.

Genre:  Drama      Year:  1964      Rating:   NR-PG
Actors:  Tippi Hedron, Sean Connery, Diane Baker
Topics:  Psychopathology, Anxiety Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics
There is much to this movie. It exemplifies classic Hitchcock in its photography, use of color, and psychological storyline. The psychiatrist role was deleted from the screenplay, with Sean Connery, as the boyfriend, taking over the lines. Was this realistic? Was the ending realistic? Can you explain the theivery? What about a classical conditioning paradigm for the fear of the color red and thunderstorms? How, today, would Marnie be treated?

‘Night Mother
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1986     Rating:  R
Actors:  Sissy Spacek, Anne Bancroft
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Substance Use Disorders
Plenty of family dysfunction here – declaration of suicidal intention by the daughter whose life consists of a failed marriage, a drug-addicted son, and agoraphobia. Her mother attempts to convince her that life is worth living. From a Pulitzer Prize winning play.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1975     Rating:  R
Actors:  Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders, Treatment, Forensic
Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress among other awards. This is a must see (and I mean MUST for any psych major!). Why faking insanity to avoid jail may not be a good idea (at least not during this era).

Ordinary People 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1980     Rating:  R
Actors:  Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Stress and Coping
Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Actor. Another MUST SEE for psychology majors. Portrayal of how a family deals with trauma. One of the few positive portrayals of a therapist (Judd Hirsch).

Perks of Being a Wallflower, The   
Genre: Comedy/Drama     Year:  2013    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Topics:  Developmental, Psychopathology, Mood Disorders
This is a refreshingly good coming-of-age movie. Based on the book, it chronicles a teen boy’s transition to high school and his development of friendships. We are aware that he has a history of psychiatric hospitalization and depression, but the etiology of his difficulties is not fully revealed until the end of the movie. This is another recent film, like Silver Linings Playbook, which does not stigmatize mental illness. Well done!


Prince of Tides, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1991     Rating:  R
Actors:  Barbra Streisand, Nick Nolte, Blythe Danner
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics
Barbra Streisand as therapist. Think it’s OK to fall in love with the brother of your suicidal client? Oy vey. Another example of unethical conduct by a mental health professional. I was angry through most of the movie! The beautiful cinematography helped keep me calm.

Genre:  Drama     Year:  1995     Rating:  R
Actors:  Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkeley
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Treatment 
A film about “environmental illness” aka multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. Is there really such a thing? Maybe. Does Carol White in this film have it? Maybe not. Is she depressed? There certainly is plenty of evidence to think so. As you watch the film, keep track of all the things that could be “toxic” from hair spray to car exhaust. Also note the virtually omnipresent background noise – electronics, traffic, etc. Also note when it is and is not present when Carol is at the treatment facility. 

Silver Linings Playbook 
 Genre:  Comedy/Drama     Year:  2012     Rating:  R
Actors:  Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro
Topics: Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital and Family Dynamics, Treatment
This is one of my all-time favorite films.  Bradley Cooper portrays a man newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He meets Jennifer Lawrence, a young woman with her own mental health issues.  The film very accurately and matter-of-factly reflects the impact of psychological difficulties on the family while avoiding stigma.  Unfortunately, there are some unprofessional/unethical acts by mental health professionals.  Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic film. You’ll love it!


Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  1996     Rating:  R
Actors:  Janeane Garofalo, Mitch Rouse, Margaret Cho
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders 
What to do when your blind date turns out to be an engaging young woman with bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation?


Three Faces of Eve, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1957     Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Joanne Woodward, David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb
Topics:  Psychopathology, Dissociative Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Stress and Coping 
Academy Award winner for Best Actress. Early story of psychiatric treatment to fuse multiple personalities. One of the “training films” used by the Hillside Strangler in his attempt to fake multiple personality disorder (see Frontline’s “Mind of a Murderer-Part 2”). Compare with Sybil. Consider the etiologies and why The Three Faces of Eve did not spark the boom of MPD diagnoses that followed Sybil. Note the role of passivity (aka Eve White) as an adaptive strategy for coping with her husband. Note also the timing of the onset of problems, associated with miscarriage. Was the revelation at the end really the cure, in a Freudian sense, or was there progress all?

Genre:  Drama     Year:  1958     Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Jimmy Stewart
Topics:  Psychopathology, Anxiety Disorders, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders, Stress and Coping 
This movie tops many “all time favorites” lists. The story of a police detective, Scottie (also called Johnny), who suffers a trauma, developing acrophobia and vertigo, causing him to retire from the force. He is hired by an old college acquaintance to tail his wife, Madeleine, who seems to have dissociative identity disorder. Scotty falls in love with her, but can’t prevent her from committing suicide. Stop reading here if you don’t want the plot spoiled…Scotty is traumatized, becomes catatonic. Later encounters young woman on the street who looks like Madeleine. Turns out that she truly was the Madeleine that Scottie had followed, but she was part of the murder plot of the real Madeleine, however she really did fall in love with Scottie. Over time, they date, he remakes her into Madeleine (hair color, clothing, etc.). I’ll save the rest for you to see. Did you see Scottie as a sympathetic character? How did you feel about him at the end? Would his efforts to overcome his phobia be appropriate treatment?  Interesting that Madeleine was portrayed as being dissociative and Scottie seems to show many signs of dissociative features, as well, including his two first names…hmmm! A film to be watched more than once. Enjoy!

Vincent and Theo
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1990     Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Tim Roth, Paul Rhys, Adrian Brine
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
Biography of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother who supported him. Clearly Vincent experienced depression, and some believe that the impetus to cut off his ear came from Meniere’s Disease, which can cause unbearable ringing in the ear. 

Virgin Suicides, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1999     Rating:  R
Actors:  James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Krsten Dunst
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
What lead to the multiple suicides by sisters? Loss of innocence? Family dysfunction? Much room for interpretation. Consider the reactions by the neighbor boys, who are trying to figure out this mystery. Read my article on motivations for suicide in the movies. 

Weather Man, The 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  2005     Rating:  R
Actors:  Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics
Another “man’s search for meaning film.” Serious, yet with plenty of comedy to keep you entertained. Consider the weatherman’s diagnosis – dysthymia? Depressive PD? Also, what’s your interpretation of the father (Michael Caine)? Some reviewers saw him as a negative character – I disagree and found him to be as supportive as he could be, while recognizing his son’s failings.

What Dreams May Come
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1998     Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Annabella Sciorra
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Stress and Coping 
First the children are killed, then the husband, resulting in significant depression and despair. The story, though, is primarily of the husband’s experiencing heaven, continued contact with the “real world,” and descent into hell. Visual imagery is remarkable (won Academy Award for Special Effects).

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.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  1966     Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics 
Academy Award winner for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Alcohol abuse, dysthymia, narcissism, conversion disorder, marital dysfunction, and wonderfully clever dialogue make this a must see. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton portray the older married couple whose fights are full of psychological barbs.

Woodsman, The 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  2004     Rating:  R
Actors:  Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dysfunction, Social, Forensic 
This film is likely to generate significant discussion – there no doubt will be some who find it offensive (the producer received a gift-wrapped rat for Christmas during film production), and others who find it a thought-provoking piece about a taboo topic. The film is likely best appreciated if watched without a “heads up” – Stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers …. Kevin Bacon is terrific portraying the torment of a pedophile released after 12 years in prison. He develops a relationship with a tough woman with her own history. He struggles with his continuing impulses, wishing to be “normal,” as he works with a therapist. From a diagnostic perspective, consider that he is able to have “normal” sex with his girlfriend, the difference between him and sexual sadists, such as the one described by the cop in the film, and the role that stress played in his impulses, parallels with OCD? A thinker’s film with many metaphors throughout and unsaid story components (e.g., we have a sense of how pedophiles are treated in prison). I’m not sure if this were intentional (perhaps yes, as the same producer made Monsters Ball) – the authority figures in the film, with the exception of the therapist, were all African-American: boss, secretary, cop. Is this a social commentary about the relative social positioning of pedophiles in a biased society, even if white? Looking for a film to analyze for class? This one is loaded with material.

Woody Allen 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy     Year:  Variable     Rating:  Variable
Actors:  Woody Allen, Various
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Theory 
Pretty much any movie with Woody Allen in it deals with neurosis! In particular, in “Hollywood Ending” he develops conversion blindness.