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10 Movies That Got Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms (Mostly) Right

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Editor's Note

The following post contains spoilers for the some of the movies mentioned. 

There’s so much stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder (a mental illness characterized by emotional dysregulation and unstable interpersonal relationships) that finding a movie that accurately depicts it can feel like an impossible task. Many people only know BPD based on stereotypes, so 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 borderline personality disorder 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 the below movies to see how they portrayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder. As a note, not all the movies listed below show characters officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or any mental illness. Many of them merely demonstrate symptoms commonly associated with BPD.

Before we begin, we wanted to briefly summarize the classic nine symptoms of BPD (outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) that we based our analyses on:

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. Making frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
  2. Having a pattern of unstable relationships often characterized by idealizing or devaluing a person (also known as black and white thinking or “splitting”).
  3. Struggling with unstable self-image or identity.
  4. Engaging in risky or impulsive behavior.
  5. Having frequent suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm.
  6. Experiencing periods of emotional intensity, or frequent/rapid mood swings.
  7. Having chronic feelings of emptiness.
  8. Living with intense or uncontrollable anger.
  9. Dissociating or having an “out of body,” disconnected from yourself-type feeling.

Without further ado, here are the movies that got BPD symptoms (mostly) right:

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 borderline personality disorder. But whether or not Clem was written with this specific 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. ‘Wreck-It Ralph’

“Wreck-It Ralph” is a 2012 Disney movie that follows arcade game character Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), who is tired of always being the “bad guy” in his game when compared to the beloved Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). Wreck-It Ralph sets out to shed his villain status and fulfill his dream of being the game hero, but instead ends up wreaking havoc on the arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph displays a number of classic borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms, though there is no mention of mental illness in the movie. One of the symptoms he displays most clearly is impulsive behavior.

Mighty contributor Megan Glosson, who lives with BPD herself, wrote about this in her piece, 6 Obvious Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms That ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Displays:

Wreck-It Ralph is definitely an impulsive guy, to say the least. His emotions constantly push him toward rash decisions based on virtually zero logic. His desire to please others and find acceptance pushes him to game jump, break countless laws and ultimately put his life in danger.

In addition to impulsivity, he also displays a propensity for letting his emotions get the best of him, and struggling with fear of abandonment. Mighty community member @clarence picked up on this aspect of Wreck-It Ralph’s character in the sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

“While the discussion of mental health is not explicit, Ralph exhibits attachment issues to Venelope,” she wrote of the movie. “I honestly cry every time I watch this movie because I feel so validated. It’s the only media I feel [has] depicted my fear of abandonment and dependence on one individual.”

3. ‘Girl, Interrupted’

“Girl, Interrupted” is set in the 1960s and follows Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder 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.

4. ‘Welcome to Me’

“Welcome to Me” is a 2014 comedy-drama that follows Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery and uses the funds to create a talk show about herself.

BPD is largely characterized by unstable interpersonal relationships, which we see play out in Alice’s life. On her talk show (called “Welcome to Me”), Alice performs skits based on her past experiences — the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. In the process, she manages to expose numerous unhealed social wounds by calling out almost every person in her life. This lack of social discernment coupled with the oversharing of intimate details can be typical struggles for folks with untreated BPD.

Though the film does a fairly good job of portraying BPD in a humanizing (and comedic) way, one of the plot points isn’t completely accurate. In the movie when Alice wins the lottery, she stops taking her medication — which is supposed to “explain” some of her erratic behavior. For clarity’s sake, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific medication that treats BPD directly. Folks who have BPD often are on medication to treat co-occurring mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, which may indirectly help BPD symptoms.

5. ‘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.

6. ‘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.”

7. ‘Thirteen’

“Thirteen” is a drama that focuses on dysfunctional family dynamics and how it affects (and encourages) the relationship between two troubled teen girls, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Evie (Nikki Reed). The film is known for themes of teenage angst and self-destruction, and was loosely based on Reed’s life from ages 12 to 13.

Arguably the most prominent BPD symptom evident in both girls is emotional dysregulation — and the use of substances and self-harm to try to regulate these painful emotional experiences. Throughout the film, Tracy struggles with self-harm (cutting), and Evie, who came from a more obviously broken home, introduces Tracy to the world of sex, drugs and crime.

In his article for Psychology Today called, “Borderline Personality Disorder in the Movies,” David M. Allen M.D., wrote that Evie’s background is a spot-on representation of the dysfunctional childhood experiences many with BPD live through. For those who do not know, BPD is the mental illness with the strongest link to childhood trauma

In the piece he wrote:

Evie comes from an abusive borderline environment. It’s hard to know exactly what is true about her and what is not because of her incessant lies, but Evie describes her mother as a “crack whore.” Her uncle sexually abused her and pushed her into a fire — she has the burn marks and a newspaper article to prove that. Her care has been taken over by Brooke, a plastic-surgery addicted cousin, who lets her drink beer, tells her she is not allowed to go to certain places but never seems to really care what Evie is doing, and disappears for days at a time.

This film is heavy, so if you have triggers surrounding self-harm, substance abuse or childhood trauma, it might be a good one to skip, even though it does a good job depicting some classic untreated BPD symptoms and behaviors.

8. ‘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.”

9. ‘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.

10. ‘New Moon’

“New Moon,” the second installment in the “Twilight Saga” universe, has long-been viewed as the worst book/movie in the series. For those who have never seen or read “Twilight,” it follows the star-crossed relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart), a human, and Edward (Robert Pattinson), a vampire.

In the second movie, Edward breaks up with Bella and leaves town, because he believes he is too dangerous for her. Throughout the majority of the movie, she pines for him, slipping into a deep depression. Some viewers have associated this period of time with the BPD symptom of dissociation, which is a mental experience that causes a person to disconnect from their present circumstances, thoughts, memory and identity.

“I 100% identified with Bella in the ‘Twilight’ series. A lot of people think the way Bella acts is unrealistically dramatic, but I always thought Kristen Stewart captured quiet BPD,” Mighty BPD community member Jimmy Humphries wrote. “The way she fixated on Edward then dissociated in the woods and in her room after he left felt authentically BPD to me.”

In addition to her possibly dissociated state, she clearly engages in impulsive behavior in this movie. After a while, Bella discovers she can “hear Edward’s voice” when she’s engaging in risky behavior. This is because Edward is naturally cautious, so she begins to imagine him chastising her for putting herself in dangerous situations. In an effort to “hear him” she learns to ride a motorcycle, and even jumps off a tall cliff into the ocean.

What movies would you add?

Originally published: November 21, 2017
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