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Psychological Disorders In Movies A Beautiful Mind And The Butterfly Effect

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There are two part in this paper. The first part will analyze the symptom, factors and treatment of schizophrenia disorder by the film, A Beautiful Mind. The second part will analyze that of schizophrenia disorder and dissociative disorder by the film, The Butterfly Effect I.

Schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind

Overview of the film

A Beautiful Mind illustrates the story of famous Nobel Laureate, John Nash. In his early school-life, he focused on the mathematic on game theory. Due to his brilliant achievement, he joined the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the Department of Defense doing top secret work. During that time, he met his wife, Alicia. They lived happy, but soon Alicia found that John had delusion of chasing by Russian spies. John was diagnosed Schizophrenia. His roommate, superior, and job of decoding Russian code were delusion. However, with the help of Alicia and doctors, he overcame the mental illness and began to work informally in Princeton University. In the end, he faced his delusion bravely.


In the film, John shows typical symptoms of positive schizophrenia: delusion and hallucination.

Symptom: Delusion

After warned by Parcher, the superior of John’s classified missions, that if John quit the mission, he would be caught by Russian as a spy, John began to form delusion of persecution. (tracking number range: 1:05:00-1:08:00) Delusion of persecution is a type of delusion that one believes that people are out to get himself or herself. In this situation, John believed that Parcher had divulged his identity to Russians, and Russians were chasing after him. John also had the delusion of grandeur, which he believed that he enjoyed greater power and influence that he did. In the film, John believed that he worked for the Department of Defense, and decoded the locations of superatomic bomb. He considered himself more than a mathematician: he was the hero of America. Also, at 1:08:00, the director implies to the audience that Charles might be false too through visions of different characters. In fact, the delusion of Charles indicates that John has been schizophrenic disorders for years.

The delusion is usually perennial. Although John accepted medical treatment, the delusion of Parcher, Charles and Marcee haunted John many times. Since 1:40:54 in the film, John had worked for the Department of Defense again. At 1:38:00, the dangerous mind of killing Alicia even occurred to John. In fact, in the end, the delusion still existed.

Symptom: Hallucination

“Hallucinations are perception-like experiences that occur without an external stimulus. They are vivid and clear, with the full force and impact of normal perceptions, and not under voluntary control.”[footnoteRef:1] In the film, John could hear that Parcher gave order to him and Charles and Marcee talked to him; he could saw the Department of Defense, felt pain when the electronic device was implanted beneath his skin; felt warm when Marcee hugged him. [1: American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 (5nd ed). Page 87]

What’s more important, the patient, John, could not distinguish the reality and his illusion because the realistic hallucination.


Stress triggered the delusion of John. First, John was eager to be extraordinary. From 00:08:24 to 00:08:59, John said “You know half these schoolboys have published paper. I cannot waste time on book and class”, which embodied his desire to be innovative and his peer pressure. Also, John was not good at social relationship, and his schoolmates mock him, which advanced his pressure. Thus, John formed the delusion of Charles, his best friend, to lessen his pain.

His desire of achievement also triggered his delusion of Parcher. John might relieve this through considering that he worked for the Department of Defense and saved thousands of Americans’ life.

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Therapies and Treatment

John was diagnosed schizophrenic disorder by Psychiatrist in the mental hospital. Since John had been psychological for years and became sever, the doctor utilized electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT involves running current through one or both hemispheres, and he patients experience a brief seizure. From 01:20:19 to 1:21:00, John received ECT five times a week for ten weeks and experienced seizure. The ECT was effective, and John began to take medicine and came back to home. With the help of ECT and medicine, John reduced hallucination and could distinguished the reality and delusion.


A Beautiful Mind is a realistic psychological and artistic movie. For me, the movie improves my understanding of schizophrenic disorder. Seeing and feeling from the position of John, I realized how real the delusion and hallucination are. From John’s perspective, I also shocked strongly when told that “All of them never exist in reality.”. In this way, I understand why schizophrenic disorder is hard to treat. Moreover, the film taught me what is the side effect of psychological drugs: it affects mind, sex and work. Besides its great story, the film can also be an excellent psychological education film.

Psychological Disorders in the Butterfly Effect

Overview of the film

Evan had blackouts when he was young. After growing up, he found that when he reads the journals he has kept since his first blackout, he can go back in time and change the past. His time traveling episodes account for the frequent blackouts he experienced, since those are the moments that his adult self occupied his consciousness, such as the moment his father strangled him when he realized that Evan shared his time-traveling affliction. With the severe brain damage due time-traveling, Evan was diagnosed schizophrenic disorder instead of ability of time-travelling.


In the film, Evan showed typical symptom of dissociative disorders and schizophrenic disorder. Since schizophrenic has been discussed above, I will analyze dissociative disorders in this film.

First, Evan’s blackouts are typical symptoms of dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia is characterized by an inability to recall autobiographical information.[footnoteRef:2] Evan’s blackouts happened when he drew a terrible drawing (tracking number beginning: 00:04:29), held a knife to his mum (tracking number beginning:00:06:07) , was forced to be shot sexual video (tracking number beginning: 00:08:06), met with his father (00:10:18), and killed people by accident (00:13:44). In these situations, Evan always asked “where I am?”, “What happens?” and so on. He was unaware of his amnesia until someone else and the environment reminded him. [2: American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 (5nd ed). Page 291]

Moreover, Evan was always back to episodes when young Evan had amnesia. Since the old Evan occupied the young Evan, and young Evan (the main personality) did not realize the existence of the personality of old Evan, combined to the blackouts mentioned above, Evan was dissociative identity disorder. Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by a) the presence of two or more distinct personality states or an experience of possession and b) recurrent episodes of amnesia[footnoteRef:3]. [3: American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 (5nd ed). Page 291]


The main factor of Evan’s mental illness is inheritance: his father family has mental illness history. The stress from his social relationship and family and guilty of killing people also trigger Evan’s dissociative disorders.

Therapies and Treatment

In the film, Evan was dragonized mental illness by a psychiatrist. Evan received the elective therapies which combined psychoanalytic therapy and brain scan. At tracking number of 00:05:07, the psychiatrist utilized brain scan to see if even inherit mental illness from his father and grandpa. At tracking number of 00:16:30, the psychiatrist employed hypnosis to figure out what and why Evan forgot. Hypnosis is a psychoanalysis method, which psychoanalysts believe that people are likely to repress troubling thoughts. In the movie, since all Evan’s blackouts occurred in terrible situations, the Psychiatrist believed that Evan repressed his memory, and hypnosis might work. In fact, hypnosis was not effective. Evan’s psychological disorders became sever.


The Butterfly Effect is complex for psychology analysis because of its professional flaws and complicated plot. Considering from different perspectives, I can achieve different conclusion. For example, the young Evan is dissociative disorders because of external stress and natural inheritance. Then his psychological disorders develop to severe schizophrenic. This film taught me that some psychological disorders patients are hard to recovered, and the causes of mental illness are so complicated that psychiatrist cannot find out it, which is important to the therapy. There are still many obstacles in psychological therapy, but I believe psychologists will overcome them with the improvement of science and technology.

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Psychological Disorders In Movies A Beautiful Mind And The Butterfly Effect. (2021, September 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“Psychological Disorders In Movies A Beautiful Mind And The Butterfly Effect.” Edubirdie, 17 Sept. 2021,
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