As Good as It Gets is a movie starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear
in which we can easily see some of the symptoms caused by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD is characterized by strong, frequent and unpleasant feelings of discomfort, combined with the repetition of actions aimed at reducing this discomfort.
In this article, I’ll try to explain how this disorder works through this movie.
We can see two different parts of people suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:
- obsessive-compulsive thoughts
- obsessive-compulsive actions
If you want to learn more about this disorder you can read the other article I wrote on the subjects, in which I explain it in more detail.
- 1 Obsessions and Compulsions we can see in the movie
- 2 Towards recovery
Obsessions and Compulsions we can see in the movie
Preventive Rituals: oriented towards the future to make good things happen or to prevent things that happened in the past from happening again.
In the film, the character performs a series of rather unnecessary rituals that make him feel “safe”.
Some of these are:
Repeating an action, a certain number of times:
Every time he gets home, he has an entrance ritual in which he:
- Looks the door 3 times
- Turns the lights on and off 3 times
Checking that you’ve locked the door is a healthy behavior.
What makes it pathological is having to do it a certain number of times.
This behavior is probably related to a magical thought in which turning the know “3” times to close the door is the “ideal” number of times to prevent some unwanted event from happening in the future, such as, for example, nobody coming or preventing a robbery.
Another repetitive behavior is when he gets out of bed he has to touch both sides of his shoe with his toe before he can put them on.
Fear of catching any disease
This irrational fear makes him perform certain rituals such as:
- Wearing gloves throughout the day so that, when he leaves, he can touch other surfaces without getting dirty. Throwing them away even if he only uses them once.
- Eating with plastic cutlery.
- Having to use two new soaps each time he washes his hands, without really using the first one for more than a few seconds.
- Using burning water to kill any microbe, even if he finds it hard to bear the temperature.
- Showering for hours to make sure he cleans every inch of his skin.
The latter, which is shown as something “funny” in the movie can become truly invalidating for a person. Some people’s obsession is so great they can even injure themselves by scrubbing their skin so much.
Strictness in his routines:
People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are bothered by change. Because a change in their routine could pose a threat.
We can notice the strictness when they need to:
- Always go to the same restaurant to eat.
- Always sit in the same spot.
- Always be waited on by the same waitress.
This type of strict behavior gives him a certain “security” that calms his anxiety.
Magical thinking is a thought that connects an action with a meaning that the person makes up. For example:
- Not stepping on the lines on the floor
The connection that the character could make is that “if he steps on the lines, something bad will happen”, and to avoid this, he performs a ritual to make good things happen or avoid bad ones.
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder consists of exposure and response prevention.
This means that the person is exposed to the feared situation, and avoids performing the compulsive rituals.
In the film, this response prevention, that is, doing something different than usual, occurs spontaneously, for example:
The dog arrives at his house:
The dog is a disruptor in his routine. Having to take care of the dog, having to take him out for walks or feeding him, breaks the stiffness of his life.
In the film, the dog will become a key piece that will cause many changes in his life and, thus, will help him escape his obsessions and compulsions.
Changing places in the restaurant:
The first change the dog causes in his routine is that he has to take him to the restaurant where he has lunch. As the dog can’t enter the restaurant, he leaves him tied outside while he sits in his “usual place”. But when the waitress suggests a “greater evil” like “someone stealing the dog”, that fear makes him decide to move to a place in the restaurant where he can see the dog while he eats.
This is a major change, because it will allow the character to experience something different.
In his magical thinking, only his old seat could make him feel safe, but now he sits somewhere else and EXPERIENCES that nothing bad happens. Quite the opposite, his new seat allows him to see the dog, which reassures him.
Going to the waitress’s house
As we mentioned, routines make him feel safe and calm his anxiety. Meeting a new waitress causes his anxiety levels to increase and, in order to calm his anxiety, he decides to go to the waitress’s house, to ask her to return to the restaurant and serve him his food.
The obsession that lies beneath this thought is probably that “if she doesn’t serve his food, something bad may happen”. This makes him introduce another change in his routine, such as going to the waitress’s house, which gives him the chance of learning about her son’s problems.
His obsession with always being served by the same waitress, makes him help her so that she can serve him again and thus prevent his routine from changing.
If his routines change, he feels like he is losing control.
Driving his neighbor to his parents’ house
Something completely unforeseen and out of his routines.
The character has started a journey where there’s no turning back.
He’s introduced several changes in his routine and these will lead to his recovery.
Of course this is where his romantic feelings come in, but due to his lack of flexibility and empathy, he’ll need to make more changes to get out of his mental strictness.
Allowing his neighbor to live in his house
His house is his sanctuary, his “safe” place where no one can come in, it’ll become a house in which both his neighbor and his do are welcome.
This is a huge change for the character, and allows him to not only open his house but also his heart.
Expressing his feelings to the woman he loves
The fact that she answers to his strictness with anger, makes him feel out of control, as he hasn’t experienced that before. Those emotions make him forget to close the door, which had never happened before.
The film ends when the character manages to express his feeling freely. And, as a sign that everything in his life changed after the romantic kiss, he finally manages to step on the lines.
It should be clear that this is a movie and that it helps to see “some” of the symptoms that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder suffer, but these aren’t the only symptoms and of course, recovery doesn’t come spontaneously.
Professional help is required, so if you have this kind of symptoms or know someone who does, seek psychological help.
OCD can decrease a lot and, in some cases, even disappear. But you’ll always need a guide to lead you down the road to recovery.
If you have any questions about this disorder, contact me by emailing me to firstname.lastname@example.org