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Article: A Host of Disorders in The Fisher King

By Elaine Cassel

The Fisher King is one of those movies that make you wonder if the script writers are psychology majors. Released in 1991, the movie starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges depicts several psychological disorders, including psychoses.

Jack, played by Jeff Bridges, is a radio talk show host whose late-night taunt to an unstable caller leads the caller to perpetrate a horrific crime against the wife of Parry, played by Robin Williams. As a result of witnessing this unspeakable crime (we won't spoil it for you), Parry lapses into a form of psychosis that, depending on your analysis, is reactive schizophrenia, brief psychotic episode, and/or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Either way you interpret it, Parry also experiences a psychogenic fugue state.

As a homeless New Yorker who takes refuge beneath the streets of New York City, he runs into Jack. Jack, who showed the major symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder when he was in his radio glory days, is suffering from depression and substance abuse brought on by the guilt he feels for his role in Parry's tragedy (but Jack does not know that yet).

Jack is able to transcend his guilt about Parry's loss as he helps him recover from psychosis and begin a new life. Though Jack's methods might seem far-fetched (we won't disclose what they are, either!), students of abnormal psychology should consider the advice of Harry Stack Sullivan and Freida Fromm-Reichman, both of whom believed that a psychotic person's recovery depended, in part, on the compassionate, empathic methods of a clinician who could bring out the client's capacity for self-healing.

Jack goes on a mission to help save Parry and, in so doing, saves himself. Of course, there is a romantic subplot (or two). Jack is fortunate enough to be cared for by the long-suffering Anne, played by Mercedes Ruehl, who may have a touch of co-dependency in her inclination to let Jack use her. Once Jack has helped Parry get over the trauma, Parry is able to love again because Lydia, a textbook case of avoidant personality disorder, takes a chance on love. The script's symmetry leads to a fairy-tale ending where everyone seems to get what they need most in order to attain self-actualization and some degree of mental health.

The Fisher King is available for rental in most video stores.

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