Dream Life of Angels Review

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A psychological evaluation of characters in the movie Dream Life of Angels.

Submitted: August 11, 2008

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Submitted: August 11, 2008



Jacqueline Paduano

" Not whether, but when and which” A quotation from Allen Francis regarding the range of adaptive and maladaptive personality traits to take into consideration when diagnosing A person whom is believed to have a personality disorder. Personality disorders are not as lucid as the DSM may make them appear to be, there are many dimensions of personal character that need to be acknowledged.

The film “The Dream Life of Angels” starts with two working-class girls who form a friendship in the harsh city of Lille. Isa is a positive and radiant young lady who lacks money, and a permanent roof. Marie, who offers her a place to stay is squatting in an apartment that is vacant because the owners: a mother and a daughter are both in a coma. Marie is very warm in the beginning and her and Isa form a strong bond living day to day trying to survive. Isa doesn’t mind living with very little, yet Marie yearns for more and meets a club owner named Chris who she becomes infatuated with. She tries to absorb his lifestyle. Marie grows distant towards Isa as her emotions grow deeper in her love affair with Chris. Marie becomes frequently angry and defensive towards Isa and has an inability to control her temper. Her violent rages come as a shock to Isa who knows Chris is driving her mad.

As the movie progresses Marie transform for the worse. She has many interpersonal difficulties with the characters throughout the movie. It is extremely difficult to label her under one specific personality disorder in the DSM, yet she has tendencies of two in particular. The first is borderline personality disorder. People with this disorder that fit her character have chaotic relationships, changeability between anger and anxiety, self destructiveness, feelings of victimization, pervasive instability in moods, inability to hold jobs, and attempted/ or complete suicide as a possible outcome. The DSM categorizes it under Axis II (Cluster B) as an underlying intrusive, or personality characteristic. Axis I is for more defined mental disorders. To have a DSM diagnosis five out of nine criteria must be present for a considerable period of time. From my perspective Marie portrays four out of nine. The first being impulsivity, specifically promiscuous sex with guys she barely knows, the bouncer of the club (Charly) and the owner (Chris). She also attempted to steal an expensive leather jacket from a department store. The second is frantic efforts to avoid imagined abandonment. She kept Chris somewhat interested by baiting him with sex in an attempt to keep him in her life. The third criteria she falls into is difficulty controlling anger, she recurrently displayed a temper, got mad at minute things, and acted violent towards Isa. At one point in the film she unjustifiably pointed a sharp knife at Isa in a very aggressive and hostile manner. She also attacked a female friend of Chris’s who intentionally provoked her. The fourth and last criteria she displayed is suicidal behavior. She completed the act by throwing herself out a window.

The second personality disorder she shows characteristics in is psycopathy. This is a condition which individuals show a lack of empathy, poor impulse control, and manipulative behavior. These people take what they want and have no remorse. Marie had sex with the bouncer and had no problem taking his money guilt free afterwards. She showed a lack of empathy towards Isa when they needed to move out of the flat, and their broken relationship. And could not control her self destructive infatuation with Chris.

Chris the pretentious, young wealthy, gorgeous inheritor had some features of Narcissistic personality disorder. This disorder is 50 to 75 percent more frequently in men. The DSM also states five out of nine are necessary for a formal diagnosis. The first being arrogant behavior throughout the film, he acted extremely pompous because of his great wealth and prestige. The was taking advantage of others to achieve his own satisfaction. Every him and Marie had sex, it resembled rape. He was extremely forceful and she took a victimized stance. The third was a strong sense of entitlement. She had rejected his advances (weakly) in an encounter at his nightclub, he disregarded it and came at her aggressively. Lastly he showed a strong lack of empathy. This is evident throughout the film, particularly when he makes Isa break up with Marie for him. He was a very cold and harsh individual that only wanted to fulfill his own desires.

Lee Anne Clark makes a very insightful perspective of diagnosing personality disorders. The debate attends to whether diagnostic categories or personality type dimensional features should depict the personality disorder. The author believes the contemporary categorical system is scientifically unsound. Allen Frances invoked a dimensional system for Personality Disorders in the DSM. He debated that simply choosing one is scientifically insufficient. “Not whether, but when and which”. I agree with this and feel that this is why it was hard to distinguish which personality disorder the characters fall into. It is not cookie cutter clear. Clark explains how dimensions give diagnostic richness that is lacking in the DSM categories which are said to be simplified. Clark also makes the point of how adaptive and maladaptive personality traits are too intricate to be evaluated fully from a single viewpoint. Clark feels a more comprehensive understanding involves combined information from self-report, well known informants, written accounts of behavior, laboratory data, and doctors who provide an nondiscriminatory angle with a broad comprehension of the personality disorder range. With this taken into consideration it is hard to determine which disorder Marie has. Recent research has documented increased trustworthy and accurate assessments when various sources are used to diagnose personality.

An article entitled “A Framework For Integrating Dimensional and Categorical Classifications of Personality Disorder” discussed a framework for consolidating categorical and dimensional classification in an effort to analyze common elements and use the power of both systems. This is done to make a diagnosis based on biological and empirical factors. It attempts to use the DSM IV insight of personality disorders and individual variations in personality pathology. This should provide a lucidly defined and distinct phenotype for neuroscience and behavioral analysis as a tool to progress in classification in personality disorders.

In conclusion, it is very hard to tell what specific personality disorders are portrayed in this film because of the variation of individual differences, and the viewpoint of observing behavior at one specific point of time. Many traits were present that served for the criteria of the disorder, yet it would be difficult to diagnose it by the “five out of nine” criteria in the DSM IV alone. Clark spoke of the importance of dimensions in a person characteristics, and the article I provided discussed an integration of dimensions with the categorical system used by the DSM IV. With these numerous proposals of diagnosing personality disorders, we should become closer to figuring out more reliable and valid conclusions.

Livesley, J. W. (2007) . A framework for integrating dimensional and categorical classifications of personality disorder. Journal of personality disorders, 21(2), 199- 224

Clark, L. A. (2007) Assessment and diagnosis of personality disorder: perennial issues and an emerging reconceptualization. The annual review of psychology, 58, 227-57

Marquis, F. (Producer) Zonca, E. (writer/director) Bohbot, R. (screenwriter). (1998) The dream life of angels [Motion Picture]. France: Diaphana Films.

Dream Life of Angels

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