The 1987 film Fatal Attraction presents a valuable opportunity to visualize a serious mental illness that is commonly known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Throughout the analysis of Alex Forrest, one of the film’s protagonists, it will be possible to accurately observe the aforementioned mental health disorder. Furthermore, the film will make it possible to see what the dominating societal/cultural attitudes towards the illness are. The proposed analysis will make it possible to propose adequate NANDA diagnoses and psychiatric care in coping with, and overcoming, the illness. Ultimately, it will become clear that Fatal Attraction may be (effectively) used to help patients, families, and multidisciplinary staff understand mental illness/treatment. BDP leads to impulsive, erratic behavior that negatively affects those who suffer the illness, and those who are related to them.
Before going into Alex Forrest’s analysis, it is pertinent to briefly discuss BDP. First of all, it is important to point out that BDP is a disease that is characterized “by chronic urges for self-injury, overwhelming emotions, impulsivity, and unstable and/or conflictual relationships” (APA, 2000, p. 66). Based on this, it becomes quite clear from the beginning that BDP is a mental illness that disables the individual and destabilizes him/her, since the individual’s focus becomes exclusively limited to “the struggle to get through each day” Another important point that must be made is that despite the significant mental stress that BDP generates on the individual, those who are afflicted with it can appear to be deceptively normal, at least during initial contacts. In other words, a person suffering from BDP can initially appear to be completely normal. This signifies that only through continued, more personal interactions with the individual does it become possible to identify the illness’s most salient traits.
All things considered, it does appear that Alex Forrest is a normal woman during Fatal Attraction‘s opening scenes. She is an editor working for a publishing company, and one evening she happens to casually meet Dan Gallagher, who is a lawyer working for the firm that represents her company’s legal affairs. This scene does provide a minor clue of BPD: the intensely aggressive look that she gives Dan’s associate when he makes a pass at her (indicating inappropriate intense anger). Subsequently it is discovered that her job as an editor is shortly lived; this may indicate paranoid thinking (as it appears that she undermines, and;therefore, sabotages, her professional opportunities). Later on, Alex seduces Dan even though she is fully aware of the fact that he is married. This does not confirm BPD either, but it does hint that she is an impulsive person; impulsivity is one of BPD’s criteria.
After Alex and Dan become intimately involved, it becomes clear that Alex does suffer from BDP. After a weekend-affair, Dan intends to stop it and return to his family. This decision exacerbates the symptoms previously mentioned and Alex ultimately unravels. BPD is characterized by “feelings of both dependence and hostility; it is also characterized by tumultuous interpersonal relationships”. Throughout the rest of the film, Alex exhibits highly impulsive, aggressive (even self-destructive) behaviors as she becomes increasingly dependent on Dan, and their relationship becomes more and more strained.
As far as societal/cultural attitudes towards the illness are concerned, Fatal Attraction makes it clear that the illness is somewhat demonized, both socially and culturally. Dan is initially concerned, but as the BPD becomes more evident, he begins to fear for his and his family’s safety. Ultimately, he becomes angry with Alex and completely indifferent to her situation (seeing her more like a threat than like a victim). This attitude is truly consistent with society’s attitude towards people with BPD.
As far as adequate NANDA diagnoses (upon observance of Alex Forrest’s behavior), is concerned, she exhibits directed violence (she kills a rabbit and leaves it boiling in Dan’s stove). Moreover, her thought process is disturbed (she thinks Dan loves her, and they are meant to be together forever); finally, she is at suicidal risk (she slits her wrists after a heated argument with Dan). Furthermore, based on the fact that the character clearly suffers from BPD, it only naturally follows that the best psychiatric care may be provided using Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBP). DBT “consists of three main modalities of treatment in which clients must agree to participate: individual therapy, skills group in which clients learn four sets of fundamental skills — Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance – and phone coaching”. In a word, this is a form of psychiatric care that intends to coach individuals so that they can learn how to behave differently (learning how to act normally under stressful situations).
Clearly, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) poses a threat not only for those who suffer from the illness, but also to those that come into contact with them. Therefore, it should be made clear that Fatal Attraction is a film that may be extremely useful in teaching patients, families, and multidisciplinary staff more about BPD, specifically about its most salient traits. In a word, this is a film that could help people become acquainted with the illness, thus enabling them to recognize symptoms in a timely manner. In the end, this is a film that could well increase overall awareness, thus making it possible to minimize the adverse effects that BPD may cause on people’s health and/or lives.