Almost three years ago, I wrote a post expressing my frustration with the way OCD and other brain disorders were typically portrayed in the media. Since that time, there have been glimmers of hope: The movie Silver Linings Playbook (which I have seen) and the HBO show Girls (which I have not) seem to portray more realistic pictures of life with mental illness. The media was on the right path.
Or so I thought.
I recently came across this article about an upcoming movie and the heading made my heart drop: “Denzel Washington is a Killer With OCD in The Equalizer.” I don’t know how OCD will be portrayed in this movie, but the fact that “OCD” and “killer” are in the same sentence is enough to make me cringe. Here is an excerpt of what Mr. Washington has to say about OCD:
“You can be obsessed with a lot of things. It’s just that, OCD seems that people know certain things; people count or wash their hands or things like that. You could be obsessed with microphones or phones or chairs. I don’t know what makes it happen, but it’s just obsessive behavior…. I think it’s the fear. You fear something, so you try to handle it. I don’t know if ‘control’ is the word for it.”
It seems to me that an actor portraying someone with OCD should have a deeper understanding of the disorder. Of course, that’s not what bothers me the most. What bothers me is the association between the words “killer” and “OCD.” I am concerned about OCD being depicted accurately. As we know, the obsessions connected to OCD are always unwanted and never acted upon. Violent obsessions (in addition to other obsessions) torment OCD sufferers because they totally go against who they are, and how they live their lives. Will this movie make this clear? I guess we will just have to wait and see, but I’m not feeling too optimistic.
I have higher hopes for the indie film, The Road Within, which recently premiered at the LA Film Fest. Dev Patel (from Slumdog Millionaire) plays a young man with OCD, and the two other main characters in the movie suffer from anorexia and Tourette syndrome. In this article, Dev talks about the tremendous responsibility of playing a character with OCD:
“I met people with OCD and read tons of books. After meeting the real sufferers, you realise how serious this infliction is, and its torment. It can consume the person to the point where they can’t step out of their own bedroom.”
For those whose lives have not been touched by OCD, the media likely plays a huge role in their perception of the disorder. And while, overall, I am pleased that OCD continues to receive attention, what we want and desperately need, is the right attention. Whether that will be the case with these two movies remains to be seen.