Translating the life stories of real people into feature films is one of the most challenging tasks. However, when directed the right way, such movies can reveal a treasure trove of psychological insight.
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By basing the psychological twists of the movie on the principles of the Cognitive Behavioral Theory, the director and the cast managed to come up with a careful analysis of Antwone Fisher’s story.
From the perspective of the CBT, Antwone’s problems stem from his bitterness, which, in its turn, originates from his having been rejected as a child.
The hints regarding the roots of Antwone’s problem are scattered all over the movie: “’Who will cry for the little boy?’ – ‘I will. I always do” (Antwone Fisher, 2002).
Though Antwone has to confront not one, not two, but three psychological issues in the course of his life, each of these issues takes its roots from the same childhood trauma that the lead character suffered from.
Therefore, his current behavior was predisposed by the circumstances that Antwone was exposed to as a child.
More to the point, such CBT patterns as automatic thinking, which results in a series of nightmares that haunt him at the beginning of the movie, or the reminiscences of Mrs. Tate shouting in his face that even his own mother never wanted him (Antwone Fisher, 2002), can be observed in Antwone’s behavior.
The given thinking patter, Antwone has a number of catastrophic thoughts rushing through his mind, which aligns with the principles of the CBT theory.
In addition to the aforementioned issues, Antwone is clearly afraid of changing anything in his life; he doubts the value of living and the extent of his own abilities, which is another CBT pattern that has to be changed.
For instance, Antwone fears the very idea of being more powerful: “It felt like a surprise” (Antwone Fisher, 2002).
It could be argued that Antwone suffers from what the CBT theory defines as being socially phobic; in other words, Antwone is afraid of social interactions, since he realizes that he may get emotionally involved and., therefore, hurt in the process.
As a result, Antwone has what Davenport defines as an “anger problem” (Antwone Fisher, 2002) and which, in fact, is the projection of Antwone’s anger of his own fears onto the people around him.
From a CBT specialist point of view, two major treatment goals are to be pursued. To start with, Antwone has to realize where the source of his bitterness and psychological torture comes from (Butler, Chapman, Forman & Beck, 2006).
Second, it is imperative that Antwone should recognize the fact that he lives in a different environment now and that he must adapt to the given environment instead of recycling the strategies that he developed as a child and a teenager.
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As far as the movie goes, it becomes obvious that the key obstacle in Antwone’s way to reconciling with his past and coming to terms with his own self is the fact that he shoved the painful memories of child abuse in the deepest corner of his mind, therefore, blocking the access to the information that is bound to help him model new behavioral patterns.
To be more exact, Antwone has to get rid of his fear of relationships, which was inflicted by years of child abuse, and reconceptualize his attitude towards communication with other people.
Antwone must not only understand that contacting with people does not involve traumatizing experience, but also shape his behavioral pattern correspondingly, i.e., become more open towards social interactions.
Though the use of the CBT seems quite legitimate, one might argue that there are other theories that may possibly suit Antwone’s goals better and make him finally get rid of his childhood fears and complexes.
While the CBT postulates sit quite well with Antwone’s needs, it can be assumed that there are better ways to solve his problems and provide him with an opportunity to build relationships with the rest of the world.
One of the most obvious alternatives is the so-called attachment theory, which stresses the necessity to build emotionally stable relationships and allows locating the source of deviations in these relationships.
In other words, the given theory will help Antwone recall his childhood family issues, realize that he has the chance to change the pattern that was set in his childhood, and create a new one.
However, the given theory does not help confront Antwone’s fears and phobias, which means that its principles of emotional safety can only be used as an addition to the CBT postulates.
Apart from the concerns mentioned above, diversity issues should be brought to the patient’s attention in the course of the therapy (Trip, 2007). Davenport’s endeavors are worth being appreciated, yet his approach does not presuppose tackling the diversity issues.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to consider Antwone’s case with regard to the specifics of his culture. It is essential to take into account that cultural misunderstandings are possible between Fisher and the representatives of other cultures, namely, American one.
Hence, when trying to be open towards the representatives of other cultures, he might become disappointed, which will result in him indulging into even harsher self-accusation and becoming an even greater recluse.
Antwone must shape his behavioral pattern so that he should feel secure about communication with other people. The given security, in its turn, will come from reconsideration of his past.
In the course of the therapy, one might stumble over several ethical issues, the issue of patient’s consent in particular.
As the movie shows, Fisher does not accept Davenport’s offer to treat him from his childhood trauma willingly – quite on the contrary, it takes much time for the psychologist to break through the wall built by the patient (Walkup et al., 2008).
The given situation begs the question whether it is ethical to insist on treating the patient even after the latter has stated clearly that no treatment is required.
While in the movie, Fisher finally comes to the conclusion that he should seek help, in real life, the decision to face one’s demons is rather hard to make.
The use of the cognitive behavioral theory is fully justified in the movie.
Helping to define the factors that affected the protagonist’s character development and triggered his fear of relationships, the theory exposes a number of uncomfortable truths about human nature, the key one being the effects of social ostracism.
By rejecting Antwone, society shaped him into a guilt-ridden, alienated and resentful man, and it was only by a lucky coincidence that he had a chance to confront his fears and reconcile with his own self.
Antwone Fisher (2002). Ex. Prod. Denzel Washington. Los Angeles, CA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Butler, A. C., Chapman, J. E., Forman, E. M. & Beck, A.. T. (2008). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: A Review of meta-analyses. Clinical Pyschhology Review, 26(1), pp. 17–31.
Trip, S. (2007). Handbook of cognitive behavioral therapies. Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, 7(2), p. 223.
Walkup, John T. et al. (2008) Cognitive behavior therapy, sertraline, or a combination in childhood anxiety. The New England Journal of Medicine 359(26), pp. 2753–2766.