Generativity Vs Stagnation Examples in Movies

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As humans, we seek to achieve happiness by becoming successful and complete beings. To achieve said happiness, we have to understand how we grow and develop from a psychosocial perspective. Erik Erikson was a theorist who took Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and modified it to create his life span theory of personality development, which he divided into eight stages. Three films that portray some of these stages of development include The Breakfast Club, which portrays Identity vs Role Confusion; Forrest Gump, which portrays Intimacy vs Isolation; and Lost in Translation, which portrays Generativity vs Stagnation. Each film has one character, in particular, that is going through the aforementioned developmental stage. I trust that as I discuss these characters and their journey to resolve their life crises throughout these films, you will have a better understanding of these three stages of development in particular.

In the film, The Breakfast Club, one of the major themes is role confusion, which Erikson describes in the 5th stage of development – Identity vs Role Confusion. The film focuses on five teenage high schoolers from different walks of life who wind up in detention and get to know one another on their quest to find their identity. According to Erikson, this stage’s major “characteristic is adolescence and therefore occurs between 12 and 20 years of age. The stage involves a shift to issues of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I going?’” (Baucum). One character in particular that faces this identity moratorium is John Bender, (or “The Criminal” as he is portrayed in the film). He is referred to as the criminal because he puts on a tough front and paints the stereotypical image of a person with disregard towards authority, who gets in trouble for attention, appears cold and heartless, often skips school, and is involved with substance abuse. John is a character that exhibits the traits of someone that “fails to establish a sense of identity within society, which can lead to role confusion. Role confusion involves the individual not being sure about themselves or their place in society” (McLeod). When he finally starts to come out of his shell, he tells the group that he is physically abused at home by his father, which is the root cause of his crisis and causes him to take his confusion out in rude and unfavorable manners. As the group gets to know one another a little more, they reveal who they truly are to each other and discover how much in common they all had. By forming a bond with the other students, John is able to achieve success in resolving his crisis and develops the virtue of fidelity. “This is characterized by the self-esteem and self-confidence that are requisite to associating freely with people and beliefs on the basis of their value, loyalty, and integrity” (Psychology Notes HQ). John realizes that the pressures and fleeting freedom of adolescence is only a part of youth.

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A great film that exemplifies Erikson’s 6th stage of development – Intimacy vs Isolation, is the film, Forrest Gump. Erikson described this stage as “corresponding to young adulthood, which usually occurs between 20 to 40 years of age” (Baucum). This is a film about a simple-minded man with a mental disability who lives his life based on the values taught to him by his mother. As Forrest tells his story from childhood to adulthood, he goes through many developmental stages, but the most reoccurring theme is intimacy. Forrest struggles with intimacy in both aspects – sexually and emotionally. “Intimacy focuses not only on forming close friendships, but also achieving marital intimacy and companionship” (Baucum). Forrest faces an isolation crisis whenever he attempts to get close to Jenny. Jenny is a character that appears and reappears throughout the film while she attempts to resolve her own personal struggles. Jenny is a troubled young woman who was abused by her father and is facing a crisis of her own. In one particular scene, Forrest confesses his love toward Jenny, but he is not able to fully grasp the concept and therefore she wouldn’t reciprocate his love. “This can be particularly difficult as these individuals watch friends and acquaintances fall in love, get married, and start families. (Cherry)”. In another instance, Jenny attempts to be physically intimate with Forrest, but due to the fact that he is mildly cognitively impaired and he was inexperienced in the matter, he becomes uncomfortable. Toward the end of the film, Forrest is able to resolve this crisis and develop the virtue of love by being physically and emotionally intimate with Jenny. “Erikson’s theory suggested that at this stage, young adults develop the capacity to offer love, both physically and emotionally, and to accept love in return” (Psychology Notes HQ). Forrest and Jenny have a child together and become married and despite his tough upbringing, he is finally able to understand the meaning of love.

Lost in Translation is a film that focuses on Erikson’s 7th stage of development – Generativity vs Stagnation. Erikson believed that this stage is “characterized by middle adulthood and thus occurs from ages 40 to 65” (Baucum). The main character in the film, Bob Harris, is a middle-aged man that develops a friendship with a young woman named Charlotte while stuck in Tokyo. While both characters face an existential crisis, Bob is the character that faces the dilemma of generativity. “Generativity applies to both achieving a productive work life and successfully rearing children and taking care of family” (Baucum). From the very beginning of the film, it is obvious that Bob is dealing with a stagnation crisis when he receives a fax from his wife reminding him that he forgot his son's birthday. “These individuals may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community and with society as a whole” (McLeod). We continue to see Bob struggle as he and Charlotte form a bond over an intimate conversation about each other’s personal troubles. Charlotte tells Bob about the uncertainty of her future with her husband, while Bob shares the troubles of his marriage. When Bob tells Charlotte that he has been married for twenty-five long years, Charlotte tells Bob, “You’re probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet?” (Lost in Translation). At this stage, “some people may experience mid-life crisis and struggle with finding new purposes in their lives” (Psychology Notes). People at this stage begin to reflect on their own life and worry about “making their mark on the world by caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place” (Cherry). Towards the end of the film, Bob is able to resolve his existential crisis by developing a virtue of care. Bob helps Charlotte by answering her questions regarding life and direction, while Charlotte helps Bob by reminding him how much he loves his children and his wife.

Three of Erikson’s stages of development are depicted throughout these films. The Breakfast Club included a teenager, John Bender, whose major struggle was role confusion. John was able to achieve fidelity and resolved his identity crisis by letting his guard down and discovering who he really is. Forrest Gump featured a simple man who had intimacy issues. Forrest was able to achieve the virtue of love when Jenny and him were able to solve both of their struggles and were finally able to love one another. “Lost in Translation” involved a middle-aged man undergoing a midlife crisis. They both helped each other by bringing together two people who are very alone and finding part of themselves in one another.

Works Cited

  1. Baucum, Don. Psychology. Barron's, 2006.
  2. The Breakfast Club. Directed by John Hughes. Universal Pictures, 1985.
  3. Cherry, Kendra. Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development (2019). Retrieved from
  4. Forrest Gump. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Paramount Pictures, 1994.
  5. McLeod, Saul. Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development (2018). Retrieved from
  6. Lost in Translation. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Focus Features, 2003.
  7. Psychology Notes HQ. Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development (2019). Retrieved from
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Generativity Vs Stagnation Examples in Movies. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
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