Jun 17, 2019
category: Art

I chose to describe a psychological diagnosis of the character presented by Jack Nicholson in the film of James L. Brooks (1997) As Good As It Gets. He is a protagonist in the motion picture and is a vivid example of a person with a long history of the obsessive-compulsive disorder. His mental derangement is an asset to the script. It allowed examining the life of a person with a superior intellectual capacity in the comic context. His affliction disrupts communication and provokes interpersonal conflicts. However, it avoids association with socially dangerous behaviors. In reality, the life of a person with the obsessive-compulsive disorder is challenging. His childish and funny actions conceal a continuous fear and mental stress. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an irresistible impulse to block adverse imaginative consequences by establishing rituals and following them meticulously. In other words, obsessions create anxiety while compulsive habits serve as instruments mitigating perceived stress.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) assigns all obsessive neuroses to this group (Comer, 2013). The discovery of their common etiology allowed establishing efficient pharmacological interventions that suppressed pathological symptoms. Nowadays, doctors control the neurochemical imbalances and neurotransmitter breakdowns by combining psychotherapy and medications. The former approach incorporates exposure and response prevention (EPR) while the latter requires the controlled use of antidepressants. Although there are very few cases of complete recovery, continuous treatment stabilizes obsessive compulsions and facilitates the patient’s social rehabilitation. The categorical approach used to identify the disorder implies uncovering a set of conventional symptoms present in the case of a patient. Unlike the dimensional approach, this method disregards the severity of symptomatic expression and concurrent conditions.

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People can use self-diagnosis to suspect the disorder and seek professional psychological help. Obsessive rituals include a recurring mental activity, such as the choice of numeric patterns, fixation on counting things, and repetition of particular words. They may manifest in repetitive though useless actions, such as excessive hand washing, cleaning, checking, reorganization of clothes, etc. These exercises may be connected to such fixed beliefs as fear of infestation, adverse consequences, images of sexual connotation, homophobia, dysmorphophobia, etc. Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders tend to find subtext and enmity in communication with people from their immediate environment. They absorb in the pathological self-analysis of their own behaviors and expressions. Moreover, they transfer real relations with friends and family into the maze of own thoughts and assumptions. As a rule, social inadequacy and loss of connections augments stress and aggravates obsessions (Comer, 2013).

The problem is that most patients are reluctant to see the doctor and begin treatment. They recognize the obsessive rituals in their daily life but try to conceal them from public because they feel ashamed and fear change. Some people take these signs for the dementia. Further, I will identify the symptoms that Jack Nicholson’s character shows and describe why he would get the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Discussion and Analysis

The first symptoms of Melvin Udall’s disease are presented in the scene with his neighbor. A lovely woman is in her best spirits as she steps out of her New York City apartment to buy tulips. However, a famous novelist beside the elevator kills her mood immediately. She disgustedly leaves and shuts the door hissing profanities. In turn, Melvin justifies this reaction as in a few minutes he throws Verdell, the dog of his other neighbor, into the garbage chute. He reveals no sentiment during this act. He is preoccupied with the intention to prevent the animal from doing its business in the public hallway. The next moment Melvin is being terribly rude and racist towards the homosexual artist, Simon Bishop, and his African-American agent, Frank Sachs. He makes hostile remarks about the tone of Sachs’ skin and suggests them to keep their relationship “zipped up.” As Melvin springs back to avoid touching the person, whom he views as a “gay colored” threat, we see that he is wearing black gloves. Simon’s remark -“You do not love anything, Mr. Udall” – completes the picture of the writer’s closest social relationships. The antagonism between Melvin and his neighbors is profound and mutual.

We see a set of obsessive rituals as the story unfolds. There are numerous street-door locks to prevent the robbers from getting into the apartment. Melvin cannot resist the impulse to count his operations as he turns the locks to close the door, switches on the light, steps, etc. As he walks through New York, he avoids stepping on sidewalk cracks to avert bad luck. He cannot stand being touched. Unavoidably he attracts attention of the hostile strangers, who recommend him to “get a life.” However, he is deaf to such remarks fully engaged in the compulsions of his mental disorder. Daily eating of the same breakfast set at the same table of the same restaurant is another ritual the writer follows. He banishes other people from taking his table. Utilizing disposable plastic utensils is his only chance to mitigate mysophobia. Melvin cannot wash his hands as an ordinary person. He throws away expensive leather gloves and a piece of soap he used to wash his hands only once. He endures burning hot water and completes the procedure several times to make sure he completely gets rid of the imaginary germs and parasites. Jars with pills and vitamins, small bottles with water, perfect stacks of books, records, and notes complete the immaculate order and cleanness of Melvin’s living and working spaces. Obsession with schemes and symmetry manifests in the way he packs things. His explicit monolog with Simon emphasizes the writer’s desire for complete seclusion and deliberate avoidance of any social contacts. In fact, the writer is aware of his diagnosis. However, he chooses to neglect therapy sessions and taking medicine. He hates pills, since he believes that they are a chemical poison. He assumes he has no control of his obsessions and accepts them as an inevitable evil. He utterly refuses to take responsibility for his actions. This attitude ruins the novelists’ social life.

As Frank Sachs observes, Melvin “intimidates the whole world with his attitude.” The degree of his homophobia and misanthropy is abominable. His real-life choice of verbal expressions stands in profound contrast with the rich and poetic language he uses in his romantic novels. “I have Jews at my table” and “think white and get serious” are some of the standard wordings he uses to describe the situation. This attitude rouses incomprehension and repulsion during every interaction. Surprisingly, the African-American art dealer becomes the first person to break the novelist’s pathological serenity and initiate therapeutic intervention. He forces Melvin to look after Verdell while its master recovers in the hospital. The dog is the first living being that evokes Mr. Udall’s felling of attachment. Emotional connection empowers the dog to break his rituals. We see that Melvin is aware of the pathological condition as he orders the dog not to be like him once the animal adopts his ritual of overstepping sidewalk cracks. Warm-hearted interaction with the dog softens the world around Melvin. Moreover, it becomes a motivation for the novelist to reconnect with the society. Once a single obsessive pattern breaks, we see a chain reaction of behavioral adjustments. Mr. Udall homophobia, misanthropy, and mysophobia subside. He takes care of Simon, interacts with Frank a lot, and becomes sincerely concerned for the well-being of his new friends. Eventually, Melvin even allows Simon to move in his apartment until his financial circumstances improve.

Carol Connelly, a server at Melvin’s usual restaurant, is another significant therapeutic element. It turns out that she can tolerate the writer’s eccentricities, and he can bear her touch. Melvin is blind to the needs and emotions of other people, as he reduces the number of individuals in his environment and uses them as instruments to satisfy his immediate exigencies. In Carol’s case, he makes a ruthless remark projecting the imminent death of her sick son. He lies to her when she demands his apology due to the fear that she would not serve him again and violate the ritual. The same phobia drives Melvin to arrange treatment and cover the medical bills of Carol’s son. This initiative coincided with ethical behavior accidentally. The writer meant to return the server to work and reestablish an important ritual. Romantic sentiments for Carol begin to influence Melvin’s decision in a particular way. In a phone conversation with Carol, the novelist shows signs of pathological analysis of their relations. However, he checks himself affirming that “he believes he knows” what she is thinking and planning to say. She is always afraid that he will say “something awful.” He suppresses his phobia of driving to please her as they spend a day outside of the city. He starts taking pills to be “a better man” for the woman he loves. In the end, we see a substantial improvement of Melvin’s condition as he manages without his gloves, kisses Carol, and steps on a crack.

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The plot incorporates important concepts of Abnormal Psychology, such as relativism and multiple causal relationships (Comer, 2013). We observe the first principle in the way modern society treats people affected with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It disregards their suffering, refuses to understand impulses, and tends to exclude them from social circles. Everyone shuns Melvin as a source of negative energy, except for Carol and Frank. Waiters and neighbors turned their backs on the writer. People insulted him, commenting his obsessive behavior with rude remarks. Social authorities did not lock him in the asylum, as they would have done in the past. He even managed to become a highly paid best-selling novelist with millions of fans. However, regardless his writing talent and professional achievements, society preferred to keep him confined in his apartment and ban access to public places. The second principle appears in the way predisposing fuels the manifestations of the mental disorder. Social antagonism and willful isolation aggravated obsessions. In turn, factors establishing mental and emotional security curbed behavioral abnormalities.


The categorical approach used to analyze Mr. Udall’s case confirms the classical diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The script and the talented play of Jack Nicholson present an adequate interpretation of the disease in the life of the protagonist. His character is developed in every detail. Nothing is missing in the description. We observe characteristic compulsion symptoms, such as excessive hand washing, counting, checking, the organization of clothes, retention of a strict routine, etc. Obsessions come to the surface in the form of different phobias, such as homophobia, misanthropy, and mysophobia. We see positive outcomes because of an efficient therapeutic intervention. Treatment comes as a combination of exposure, medication, and gradual social rehabilitation. The screenwriter used such concepts of Abnormal Psychology as relativism and multiple causal relationships to create the appropriate environment for the character and correlate among the events forming factors. The character’s miraculously fast recovery caught my attention. As a rule, the healing process takes a lot more time.

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