Classic Psychological Disorders

         If I were to teach a film and literature course to follow a particular agenda such as psychological studies, I would use a variety of the film-literature combinations to show the different disorders many of the characters suffer.

         In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, many of the characters have psychological problems. Cathy (Merle Oberon) suffers mostly from an identity crisis. She thinks she wants to be rich, go to parties, and live in high-class society; although, underneath it all, she yearns for Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and the happiness he brings to her life. Cathy also shows signs of a slight personality disorder. When she is around Edgar, she acts polite, uses her best manners, and pretends to be someone she is not. However, in the company of Heathcliff, she is often free, doing what she pleases, running wild, and acting like a fool. Her behavior rapidly changes, depending on whom she is accompanied by.

         Heathcliff also suffers psychologically in the book/film Wuthering Heights. Cathy helps to disturb his sanity by playing with his emotions; one day she wants to marry him, and the next day she is dining with Edgar. Heathcliff has a bad home life after Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley takes over the household and makes Heathcliff become a stableboy. Everyone in his life abandons him at some point, forcing him to go into an angry depression. After that, he becomes the "ruler" of others. He makes his money and steals Wuthering Heights out from under the grasp of Hindley, who is falling more and more into an alcoholic stupor. Of course, Heathcliff never has Cathy as his wife, as he has wanted, but he shows the others how they could not just walk all over people without it coming back to haunt them. Heathcliff makes his harassers reap what they have sowed. His psychological problems come from his environment; his future disposition has been placed out of his control.

         Wuthering Heights would definitely be an excellent example to use for studying psychological problems in film-literature combinations. Cathy and Heathcliff are certainly not the only mentally-ill people in this story line. Many have problems that cause others to produce problems. In the end, they each feed off of the other's dysfunction.

         Another good example of psychological disorders in film-literature combinations is George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion and George Cukor's movie My Fair Lady (1964). Both pieces have basically the same story line, except My Fair Lady ends with Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) going back to Higgins (Rex Harrison) instead of Freddie (Jeremy Brett). Eliza, the flower girl, is the sole problem. Like Heathcliff, Eliza's dysfunction grows because of the environment she is forced to stay in. Living on the streets, selling flowers to live and feed herself, she has lost all hope of a decent life. Her father (Stanley Holloway) is an alcoholic who does not take care of her. He basically lives on the streets as well. He comes to see her occasionally only to bum money off of her for more liquor. Higgins and Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) offers her some help; they pay for her lessons and teach her how to speak like a lady. Through long months of teaching, she becomes their toy. They play with her and shape her into what they think a lady should be. She does accomplish ladyhood; she passes her test at Buckingham Palace when the interpreter claims that she is a Hungarian princess. After the victory, Higgins and Pickering applaud each other outrageously, forgetting to give Eliza the credit she deserves. She is the one who has worked hard day after day and who has helped them around the house. She is the one who has succeeded. Eliza is so deprived of appreciation, recognition, and care that she has lost her sense of self. She does not know what she wants or whom she should become. Her environment has trapped her and limited her options of escape.

         An excellent portrayal of psychological disorders can be seen throughout Tennessee Williams' 1947 play and Elia Kazan's 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire. Stella (Kim Hunter), wife of Stanley (Marlon Brando), suffers from another lack of identity and strength. She does not know what she wants or how to change what she does not want. Stanley has an anger problem. He breaks light bulbs, radios, dishes, and even hits Stella during her pregnancy. He does not love and appreciate his family as he should. He is the man of the house and thinks that excuses his violent behavior.

         Stella's sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), comes to visit. She has a bipolar disorder as a result of her genetic predisposition and her environment that constantly triggers new episodes of mania/depression. Stanley rapes her one night while Stella is in labor at a hospital. This event throws Blanche over the edge. Stella has to send for someone to take Blanche away, especially after how Stanley has ruined Blanche's chance at happiness and changing herself with Mitch. Stella changes her mind in the movie; she decides to leave Stanley and find herself and a new life for her and her baby. She will no longer crawl back to Stanley's abusive disposition because of weakness.

         This story is filled with underlying tension and dysfunction waiting to erupt and psychologically destroy everyone in its path. It would be a great film-literature combination for this theme, especially since even the environment surrounding these three people is also chaotic. The couple upstairs constantly fight and grow a hatred for each other that continuously starts and stops. These characters fail to realize that they can leave and be happy; they think they are bound to their current situation and environment, doomed to be unhappy and always wanting more--not to mention these people, particularly women, do not understand that they deserve a lot better for themselves.

         Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively, would be less likely to be taught in my film-literature class. This book would more likely go into a women's studies theme. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) have a fake relationship with fake children. They think they need each other for appearances, but they do not. Nora realizes this and knows that she wants a better life for herself. She needs a life that has meaning and conflict, instead of an environment that is hidden by fake smiles and money. Nora finally gets the strength to leave Torvald and pursue a better life.

         Henry James's 1898 book, The Turn of the Screw, filmed in 1961 as The Innocents by Jack Clayton, would also be least likely to be taught in my class. The existence of ghosts and the question of their true reality and presence are not very parallel with psychology. The children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), communicate with the ghosts, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) in the film, and Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) tries to protect them. This story line would fall into a supernatural theme and a theme of truth erupting out of continuous lies.

         Henry James's novel Washington Square (1880), filmed in 1949 as The Heiress by William Wyler, would probably also fall more accurately into another category. Cathy (Olivia de Havilland) and Morris (Montgomery Clift) fall in love with each other; Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), Cathy''s father, does not like Morris. Morris leaves one night without telling her. Later on, he comes back to claim her love, and she rejects him. This story line would be better in a class with a relationship theme.

         So far as I am concerned, almost half of the film-literature combinations taught in English 213 would have also been present in my class with a psychology theme.

Rebecca Hardin

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