A Streetwalker Named DuBois

         A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, was based on the 1947 play of the same name written by Tennessee Williams. The movie portrays Blanche DuBois (played by Vivien Leigh), who is clearly suffering from a borderline personality disorder, coming to visit her sister, Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) and after losing the family home.

         Stella's husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando) clearly has Blanche's attention from the minute she sees him. Stanley is not very hospitable as a host, almost immediately asking how much money Blanche had got for the big family house. Blanche weasels her way into the arms of Stanley's best friend, Mitch (Karl Malden), and tries to convince him to marry her. It is not long until Mitch finds out about Blanche's past (with a little help from Stanley of course), and Mitch walks away from her. That really kicks in the mental slide for Blanche, who starts her delusional beliefs of a millionaire ex-boyfriend coming to pick her up and take her away on his yacht. While Stella is in the hospital giving birth to her and Stanley's child, Stanley and Blanche find themselves at home alone. An altercation breaks out that that leads to Stanley raping Blanche. Blanche is then taken away to a mental institution and Stella leaves Stanley all alone. The movie ends with Stanley screaming for Stella.

         This movie is raises questions and issues, but quite simply it was an uneven portrayal of a woman with borderline personality disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV), Blanche meets the criteria for a diagnosis of borderline. She has a history of unstable relationships (the very problem that breaks her and Mitch up), is very impulsive (she moved in with her sister without any notice), she has a lack of control over her emotions (she is one minute a fine lady, and the next minute she is either crying or screaming), shifting self-image (from her desire to go away with a millionaire to wanting to stay with Stan and Stella), and finally her intense fear of abandonment (triggered by the death of her husband, can also be tied in with her erratic physical relationships). It is also not surprising to see that she actually has a psychotic break at the end because that is the way "borderline" got its name. The original belief (in the 1940's and 1950's) was that these individuals were on the borderline of a psychotic break. It has since been proven that they are not.

         This movie is a wonderful view of a borderline and the destruction that one can cause. Borderline personality disorder is a very destructive disorder, as evidenced by Blanche's tirade through this story. If one were to know the destructive nature of this disorder before Blanche came to visit Stanley and Stella, perhaps she would not have ruined their marriage.

Christian F. Runyon

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