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Psychological Disorders in the Films Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2019

There are many movies that show psychological disorders characterized by obsessive behavior and unstable mental states. “What About Bob” is a film that does a great job in presenting and illustrating disorders that an individual has.

The character’s name is Bob Wiley and he is suffering from many disorders. The viewer first encounters Bob in the bathroom, cleaning his teeth. He starts having problems with the toothbrush and ends up swallowing it. He then proceeds to open the bathroom cabinet and take one of the new brushes, as he has several of them.

This shows that he knows he has a problem and he has probably swallowed toothbrushes before. Bob is in his middle thirties and works from home, as he has way too many problems. His fears of crowds, people and the general world have forced him into his apartment where he is relatively comfortable.

This is also evident from a number of psychology books that he has on his night stand, prescription pills and cardboard notes with signs and symptoms of diabetes and cancer. This clearly illustrates that he is overly concerned with his health and is afraid to catch a deadly disease. He then goes on to chant, “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful! I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful! (Ziskin, 1991).

In reality, Bob has many disorders, such as the fear of open spaces—Agoraphobia, Paranoid Personality Disorder which leads to paranoia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, dependant personality disorder and many other phobias. Because of this, he is not in any personal relationship but seems to be financially well off, as the sessions with a psychiatrist cost a significant amount of money.

Hi education level is most like on the university level, as he is able to diagnose himself and describe his feelings, which proves that he is intelligent but fearful of his own shadow. He was so possessive of his previous therapist that drove him out of the profession and was referred to another doctor—Leo Marvin.

On his first visit to the new doctor, Bob identifies his fear of public places, heights, when he looks out of the window he rushes back and his fear that his heart will stop or that his bladder will explode when he is unable to find a bathroom (Ziskin, 1991). This causes him constant anxiety and fear of open places, which isolates him from society.

The fact that he lives in a busy and highly populated city only worsens the problem, and he is forced to walk around with a tissue and a disinfectant, in order to touch things. Dr. Leo Marvin is a professional who tells Bob to take “Baby Steps” to his problems and do not look at the whole and hard to grasp picture of the world.

Bob takes his advice and is often shown to repeat his new chant: “Baby steps into the elevator or baby steps to four o’clock” (Ziskin, 1991). Clinically, he has “hot and cold sweats”, shaking, his heart begins to race and he starts having difficulty breathing. This is caused by his panic attacks, which leads to a heightened stressed state with him feeling nervous and anxious.

After Bob leaves the doctor’s office, he realizes how much he is connected to him, which is a clear sign of dependency and inability to deal with the world on his own. Everything that follows, leads from his obsessive want to be in the presence of the doctor, which sends him to follow Dr. Marvin to his vacation home in New Hampshire.

Leo Marvin realizes that his patient is compulsively dependent on him and avoids giving him the address of his retreat. Bob decides to fake his suicide and poses as a detective, to get doctor’s address from one of the operators (Ziskin, 1991). Even though Bob has many problems, this sort of reasonable thinking shows that he has potential and a great part of his problems are in his mental disorientation.

On the bus station, he has trouble getting into the bus, which is a clear sign of fear of closed spaces and his inability to escape the stressful situation if the need arises. Once he arrives, he “clings” to the doctor and his family, making Leo Marvin unstable but connecting with the family.

One of the major themes of the movie is that Bob needs approval and emotional support in his actions. As he was closed off in his apartment, most of the time, he was unable to develop relationships with other people who would provide emotional support. This condition is long term and is often accompanied with anxiety.

Another fear that Bob Wiley has is his paranoia that people are plotting against him, have some sort of hidden plans towards his person where they will use him to their advantage (Barlow, 2002). Even though the movie uses comedy to present mental disorders, it is always a burden on the person, as they are unable to function on their own.

Lake Winnipesauke is a small town where people know each other and this allows Bob to have more space. The fact that there are no crowds and people are friendly, allows him to ease into his recovery. His comfort level is immediately heightened and he has have friendly chats, once he realizes there is no danger.

When Dr. Leo Marvin gives Bob an advice to “take a vacation from his problems” he is able to mentally distance himself from his anxiety (Ziskin, 1991). Bob focuses on interaction with the family and as his relationship with the children and doctor’s wife develops, he can see the world as a more private and friendly setting.

During his stay he also exhibits a fear of thunderstorms and darkness, as he asks doctor’s wife to keep the door slightly open at night (Ziskin, 1991). When he goes sailing, Bob is shown wearing a life jacket and tied to the pole. His fear of water is also illustrated when he is afraid to step up to the edge of the dock and look at the water.

When Dr. Marvin angrily pushes Bob into the water, he is much disoriented and only because he is wearing a lifejacket, he does erratic and anxious kicks with his feet, swimming himself to the shore (Ziskin, 1991). Overall, the movie shows 3 major disorders: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, anxiety and several phobias.

Bob’s compulsive behavior is characterized through his repetitive actions, lack of self confidence and extreme dependency on his therapist. He has many prescription medications that seem to temporarily relieve his stressed state but do not help in the long term. His anxiety is seen through the constant fear of public spaces and overwhelming expectations of catching a disease or dying.

His panic attacks which brought about agoraphobia, kept him locked up in his home for a long time, making treatment and curing impossible (Castillo, 2003). This made him extremely vulnerable, as his decision making skills were improperly functioning.

His phobias seem to stem from his personality disorder and anxiety, uniting into one and causing a person to become nervous and stressed at the minimal sign of difficulty. The movie shows an interesting progression that took place through Bob becoming acquainted with his doctor’s family and simply being out in the world. He had many instances where he had to make decisions and this allowed for better control of his actions.

The final cure came when Dr. Marvin decided that the only way to get rid of Bob is to blow him up. He took him to the woods and tied up with explosives around his neck. This was a breakthrough for Bob, as he was able to make a connection—the knots of the ropes that were physically binding him were a representation of the mental knots in his mind (Ziskin, 1991).

The movie does a great job in depicting personality disorders and what people have to go through every day. It also teaches an important lesson that a lot of psychological problems are a personal creation where an individual is unable to look past certain blocks.

The repetitive behaviors, compulsive behavior and overdependence on other people, are all manifestations of mental problems that make people’s lives full of stress and anxiety. When all the little things are put together, they create a vicious cycle where a person is unable to support themselves without some outside help. Often, the condition worsens and an individual is not able to function in the society.

Even though prescription medication is constantly used to treat people from anxiety disorders and psychological problems, a large part of the resolution lies in the mental understanding of the patient. A person has internal strength to develop a capacity to deal with problems and cure them. As the movie shows, the care and support of relatives or friends is a large part of the treatment, as the person feels needed and cared for.


Barlow, D. (2002). Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Castillo, H. (2003). Personality Disorder: Temperament Or Trauma? Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Ziskin, L. (Executive Producer). (1991). What About Bob? [DVD]. Burbang, CA: Buena Vista Pictures.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Psychological Disorders in the Films." July 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/psychological-disorders-in-the-films/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Psychological Disorders in the Films'. 3 July.

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