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Hollywood Film Critique: Psychological Disorders

Dissociative Disorders in Identity 2003

Identity is a 2003 thriller film that was directed by James Mangold that captured audiences due to its characterization as a gripping murder-mystery with various unexpected turns and an unforgettable ending. In addition to its acclamations as one of the best “single-location” film, the movie provides insights into one of the most misunderstood mental illness, dissociative disorders (DID). The primary narrative of the film is set at a motel that is located in the middle of the desert. The story unfolds at night in an endless downpour. In the movie, ten different individuals with different secrets are thrown together in the motel (Mangold, 2003). Soon it is depicted that gruesome murders are taking place and the ten newcomers are being killed one by one.

However, the movie has another plot where a midnight judicial proceeding is taking place. The convicted individual, who was scheduled to be executed the following day, is making a final argument on his defence through the application of the insanity plea. The defence maintains that the client has DID and as such is not legally responsible for the multiple murders that he committed and for which he was sentenced to death because he did not understand what he was doing during the killings (Mangold, 2003). It is almost when the one hour thirty minutes film is about to end does the audience makes a connection between the two plots. It is deductive that the occurrences in the motel are in the mind of the killer, Malcolm Rivers, increasing the audiences desire to establish which of the personalities is committing the murders (Indra, 2017). The killings in the motel are essentially Rivers way of trying to reduce the conflicting personalities in his mind.

Dissociative disorder is a rare mental illness that is diagnosed when an individual’s mind develops and showcases other personalities which can be of different sex, background, intelligence in addition to different body temperature, heart-rate and personal attributes such as hand-writing from that of the principal individual (Gillig, 2009). In most cases, dissociative disorders occur due to experiencing traumatic events, which prompts the body to provide an involuntary escape from real life, therefore, resulting to devastating consequences such as murders as depicted in “Identity.”

There are various arguments on the existence of DID. The supporters describe the mental illness as a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories and feelings as such affecting the sense of who they are. They argue that discontinuity in thought is a normal process that each person has experienced for instance through daydreaming. In the case of DID previously acknowledged as multiple personality disorder (MPD), there is evidence of two or more distinct personalities often due to high levels of disconnection due to the intensity of the traumatic event. However, some theorists argue that the diagnosis of DID and MPD are bogus basing their argument on the fact that MPD was reclassified to DID, which in their perception illustrates instability and the controversy associated with both DID and MPD (Gillig, 2009). These theorists argue if cases of DID and MPD exist, they are rare and as such it is necessary for medical professions to explore other explanations such as credible psychological disturbances such as the post-traumatic stress disorder and drug use among others before settling on DID.

While the film provides an in-depth analysis of dissociative disorder in showcasing the capabilities and the adverse consequences of an individual living with such an illness, in my opinion, the use of the multiple personality disorder is somewhat exploitative and unsatisfactory. Undeniably, while the film presents the disease as a condition characterized with versatility, it heavily relies on the clinched and derogatory perception of the mental illness as such increasingly the stereotype and stigma associated with multiple personality disorder. The movie applies dissociative disorder primarily for the intention of driving the plot as such undermining essential aspects related to multiple personality disorder, which is a shame considering the film still attract viewership one and a half decades after its original production.

Personality Disorders – American Psycho

The film American Psycho produced in 2000 depicts a 27 year old man, Patrick Bateman, who showcases symptoms of alternative psychopathic ego. In the movie, Bateman is a banking executive in an investment located in New York. In the film, Bateman expresses the desire to be on top irrespective of the costs. Bateman kills strangers he meets as well as other individuals that he perceives poses a threat to his success. While he is a human being, with flesh and blood and the capacity to feel, Bateman concentrates on his ability to fit in the society since he does not feel human. Bateman portrays the “need” and the desire to kill people in efforts of fulfilling his homicidal tendencies (Ghita, 2014).

There are various scenes throughout the film where Bateman is seen lashing out on others as such showing aspects of abnormal psychology. In the movie, the audience does not see all the scenes where Bateman kills his victims, however, in an attempt to confess, Bateman leaves a voicemail for his lawyer where he details his homicidal activities (Harron, 2000). However, despite his confession, his lawyer does not believe him and laughs the voicemail off maintaining that Bateman is joking. At the end of the movie, Bateman states that he is in pain and does not hope for a better world for either himself or other people in the society, but instead he wishes he would inflict pain to others around him.

In the film, Bateman showcases various characteristics that are consistent with a schizotypal personality disorder (SPD), antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, a borderline personality disorder in addition to exhibiting obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies. Some of the common attributes associated with SPD include; lack of close confidants, odd, eccentric or peculiar beliefs, opinions and behaviours, paranoid ideation, unusual perceptual experiences, more than average social anxiety and constricted effect (Regier, Kuhl, & Kupfer, 2013). Currently, the diagnosis of SPD is grounded on the exhibitions of more than five of the above symptoms.

Majority of the symptoms associated with SPD are common in antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. OCD, on the other hand, is characterized by two different concepts including obsessions which are recurrent and intrusive thoughts and impulses and compulsions which are overt actions that are done in efforts of reducing anxiety. The psychological analysis of Bateman reveals he is a man without any sense of identity. His day to day activities is characterized by an obsession for acquisition, social status and designated consumption. However, the narcissist is so empty with limited social interaction that he seeks to externalize his inner turmoil by exhibiting sadistic and homicidal tendencies and acts depicting borderline personality where he is executive by day and murderer by night.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition is the most recent publication of mental illness since the fourth edition in 1994. In older versions of the DSM personality disorders had axis classification, however, currently, DSM applies a non-axial methodology of classification. The previously axis one are the most common types of disturbances in the society including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, psychotic disorders, substance use disorders and dissociative disorders (Regier, Kuhl, & Kupfer, 2013). Personality and developmental disorders such as borderline personality were in the second axis. Personality disorders are different from axis one disorders since they are evident since childhood and have the capability of affecting the individual for a lifetime as is the case of Bateman in American Psycho, unlike axis one disorders that are triggered at some point in an individual’s life.

“American Psycho” provides an insight into the reasoning and actions associated with various personality disorders and the consequences of the disease not only to the society but also to the individual with the mental illness. Bateman character convinces that audience to identify with his antisocial tendencies while drawing disgust for his actions simultaneously. In my opinion, the movie convincingly illustrate various personality disorders as such increases the audience understanding of mental illness therefore working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness in the society.


Ghita, C. (2014). Pastiche and Abjection in American Psycho. Thesis and Dissertations, 1-38.

Gillig, P. M. (2009). Dissociative identity disorder: A controversial diagnosis. Psychiatry, 6(3), 24-29.

Harron, M. (Director). (2000). American Psycho [Motion Picture].

Indra, A. R. (2017). An analysis on Malcolm River’s dissociative disorder in identity movie directed by James Mangold. Dissertations and Thesis, 1-34.

Mangold, J. (Director). (2003). Identity [Motion Picture].

Regier, D. A., Kuhl, E. A., & Kupfer, D. J. (2013). The DSM-5: Classification and Criteria Changes. World Psychiatry, 12(2), 92-98.


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