As Good As It Gets and the Depiction of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As somebody who has been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I always appreciate when there are accurate depictions of it in film and television. I appreciate it when the disorder is not used for comedic purposes (looking at you, Big Bang Theory). It’s a frustrating disorder to have and it can be absolutely debilitating. As Good As It Gets is, by far, one of the best and most accurate depictions of a person coping (not struggling) with OCD.

There’s a scene in As Good As It Gets where Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall, has trouble walking away from his front door. He has his locking ritual, and he’s just trying to stop. He’s trying to walk away without unlocking and locking his door even more. The emotion expressed by Nicholson hits so close to home. I have felt that on a number of occasions, as I work to lessen or eliminate my rituals.

Representation in film is so important, whether it’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or mental illness. So often we are shown mental illness in a negative light. It usually occurs in horror films and split personalities are involved. That becomes so frustrating because there is still such a stigma around mental illness, and films that use mental illness as a source of horror or comedy do not help to eliminate the stigma. So, to have a film where Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is properly depicted is refreshing. It’s not the entirety of Melvin Udall, just like it’s not the entirety of any person who is diagnosed with the disorder.

What’s even more refreshing is that fact that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is only ever mentioned once by name, when Melvin says it out loud to his psychiatrist. People notice that Melvin has “quirks” but very few people ask flat out why he does certain things. This is similar to my experience in day to day life. People notice the “quirks” and routines, and some do comment on it, which is always fun to explain.

The triumphant moment at the end of the film when Melvin realizes that he forgot to lock the door is joyful, whether you are obsessive compulsive or not. But, I think it’s doubly joyful if you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve sought out help for my disorder and the feeling of complete achievement that overcomes me when I manage to not do part of my routines cannot properly be described in words. At the very end of the film, Melvin realizes that he’s stepping on bricks, he’s stepping on cracks in the pavement, and he didn’t even realize it. And that is absolutely incredible.

I had avoided watching this film for such a long time because I have trouble watching OCD be portrayed on screen, mainly because it tends to trigger my own OCD. I mean, there’s an entire episode of Scrubs that I cannot watch due to a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who cannot stop washing his hands. I can’t watch it because it makes me so anxious. I’ve been in that exact position before. But, I am happy that I finally watched As Good As It Gets. The writing is some of the best. I am still completely blown away by it. But, most importantly for me, the portrayal of a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was done accurately. And I don’t think I can ever really put into words how much that means to me.

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