6 Movies That Got Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms (Mostly) Right
Editor’s Note: The following post contains spoilers for the movies mentioned.
There’s so much stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder (BPD), finding a movie that accurately depicts it can feel like an impossible task. So many people only know BPD based on stereotypes, it’s easy to question whether compassionate depictions of BPD and its symptoms exist in pop culture at all.
While it can seem like Hollywood either depicts BPD badly or not at all, there are actually movies some believe accurately depict symptoms people with BPD experience. With recommendations from our BPD community, we analyzed six movies to see how they portrayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
1. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a science-fiction romantic comedy/drama that focuses on the relationship between introverted and anxious Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and free-spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). The central conflict arises from the existence of a procedure that can erase memories — a procedure Clementine undergoes to forget about Joel.
Though she’s never given a mental health diagnosis in the movie, some believe Clem is a good representation of borderline personality disorder — as well as the antithesis of the popular “manic pixie dream girl” (MPDG) trope. As the movie progresses, we see that some of the “free-spirited” behaviors she exhibits are indicative of some deeper issues. In a blog on Flavorwire, Alison Herman wrote,
As we’re taken through the lowlights of their relationship, the audience learns that the booze she pours into her coffee isn’t an endearing quirk; it’s a sign of the drinking problem that led her to total Joel’s car. She’s mercurial, irresponsible, and resentful of Joel to the point of being outright nasty. And, of course, she’s repeatedly described — by herself and everyone around her — as that term more associated with the MPDG than perhaps any other: “impulsive.”
The impulsivity and substance abuse problems Clem exhibits — as well her emotional intensity and idealization/devaluation of Joel — could perhaps indicate a struggle with BPD. But whether or not Clem was written with this specifc diagnosis in mind, many with BPD relate to her. Mighty community member Kayla Z. said she related to “a mixture of the female characters in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’”
2. “Girl, Interrupted”
“Girl, Interrupted” is set in the 1960s and follows Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) during her stay in a psychiatric hospital following her suicide attempt. During her stay, Kaysen befriends other women struggling with mental health issues, most notably Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie).
Though Susanna actually has a diagnosis of BPD, some believe the diagnosis doesn’t fit, and instead identify more with Lisa. Mighty contributor Alea D. wrote of the movie,
Honestly, as someone who was diagnosed with BPD, I identified with a few of the other characteristics of the other actors way more than Susanna. Lisa can be manipulative, [exhibits] black and white thinking and self-harm. Mostly Susanna’s thought patterns and mood showed BPD well, but it was subtle.
While the movie is humanizing in many respects, some have argued that it goes too far, romanticizing mental illness and equating it with being “cool but misunderstood.” In a post on The Radical Notion, a clinical social worker wrote,
“Girl, Interrupted,” though one of the more well-known books or movies about mental illness, is certainly not the only popular representation of mental illness out there, but it has, maybe more so than others, resonated deeply with young women. There are, of course, benefits to that, but if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture of the way that mental illness is represented through books and movies, there is a problem. The problem is in the way that it is being romanticized. Through the romanticization of it, mental illness is minimized and beautified and almost turned into something that is cool and desirable as opposed to a painful struggle.
3. “Silver Linings Playbook”
“Silver Linings Playbook” follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder who was recently hospitalized and Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who many believe exhibits symptoms of BPD — though she is not given a specific diagnosis in the movie. As both cope with the loss of relationships (Pat’s marriage ended in divorce and Tiffany was recently widowed), they navigate the process together in the movie.
Mighty community member Amanda D. wrote the BPD symptoms she saw in Tiffany were “mood swings, rage, impulsiveness, promiscuity, relationship problems, but also intense desire to be loved.”
Though it accurately portrayed the reality of living with BPD, the movie has often been criticized for its “too good to be true” ending. As Mighty community member Maddie B. said,
Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite movie of all time and it’s very relatable. It falls short though in the ending where it gave an impression they were “cured” by love. I don’t think that was the intention, but it looked that way.
4. “Star Wars” Episodes II and III
The “Star Wars” movies follow the space adventures of a variety of characters, including Yoda, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Though the franchise is familiar to many, some may not have associated Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) with symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
Mighty community member Kellyann N. shared that mental health professionals have explained BPD using Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader) as an example.
Some people may disagree with me at first, but as someone with BPD, I’m going to have to say Anakin Skywalker from “Star Wars.” I highly relate to him… The symptoms he portrays of BPD include preoccupations and fears of abandonment and loss, separation difficulties, intense passion and sensitive emotional responses, his sensitivity to potential slights, impulsiveness, anger bursts, feelings of being lost, empty and extremely unsure about identity, paranoid ideation about who is on his side and the frequent intense shifts between what he thinks, does and how he feels towards people in his life — like splitting. It’s all shown throughout the second and parts of the third movie.
What’s also important about this particular depiction of BPD symptoms is that a male was the one experiencing them. While we typically associate BPD with women because they are diagnosed with it more often than men, the reality is that men do struggle with BPD as well.
Though Anakin Skywalker exhibits many “classic” symptoms of BPD, it’s important to highlight that having a diagnosis of BPD doesn’t mean you are dangerous or will join the “dark side.”
5. “Prozac Nation”
“Prozac Nation,” a movie based on the Elizabeth Wurtzel autobiography of the same name, follows Lizzie (Christina Ricci) as she navigates her first year at Harvard. The movie explores themes of divorce, drugs, sex and mental health, characteristic of the generation at the time. Though Lizzie has depression, some suggest she exhibits traits of BPD as well.
As Mighty community member Tara O. wrote, “’Prozac Nation’ I think has the best depiction of BPD. Unstable relationships, fear of abandonment, impulsive behaviors, unstable identity, substance abuse — it’s all there.”
6. “Fatal Attraction”
“Fatal Attraction” has long been viewed as the absolute worst depiction of borderline personality disorder. The movie, which follows Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and his affair with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) — a woman with BPD — shows her stalking Gallagher and engaging in violent behavior like boiling a pet rabbit. Glenn Close, who now has experience with mental illness in her family, regrets how stigmatizing the film is. In an interview with CBS in 2013, the actress said, “I was in ‘Fatal Attraction’ and that played into the stigma. [Now], I would have a different outlook on that character.”
So why does this movie even make the list?
While most don’t believe it gets BPD right at all, some can relate to certain aspects of Alex’s condition. Mighty community member Lauren V. wrote,
‘Fatal Attraction’ depicts what it’s like to fall in love while suffering with BPD. One of the main characters, who played the part of the ‘one-night stand,’ then becomes full-on obsessed and infatuated with the married man she slept with once. Her thought process begins to spiral and she ends up stalking this person. People who [struggle] with BPD have a tendency to fall quickly for people that show them even the slightest amount of attention and I think this movie hits the nail on the head.
What movies would you add?