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- Erica Moghtader
Session 9: Mental Illness Analysis
Deemed as one of the major cult films of all time, Session 9 invokes terror in the most realistic way possible- through abnormal psychology. In the end of the story, the character Mary Hobbes’ evil personality alternate, Simon, chillingly states when asked where he lives to the psychologist: “I live in the weak and the wounded, Doc” (Anderson, 2001). Statements such as this lead to the notion that anyone could end up in a situation with, or actually like, the main character Gordon. In this paper I will discuss the various characters’ mental illnesses shown in Session 9 along with their symptoms, portrayal, and treatment amongst peers.
This intense psychological horror film, directed by Brad Anderson, is centered on the restoration of a large mental asylum, built in 1871 and closed in 1985. Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan), owner of an asbestos removal company, agrees to restore the building in an impossible turnaround time of one week. Gordon hires a crew: Phil (David Carusoe), Hank (Josh Lucas), Jeff (Brandon Sexton III), and Mike (Stephen Gevedon). Mike, secretly listens to nine old recorded therapy sessions that he found, which focused on patient #444 Mary Hobbes. Each employee has personal issues that get in the way of the job, and in combination with stress, it leads to the pinnacle of the story. The movie ends with all characters dead except Gordon, who has made patient room #444 his home. Considering the aforementioned synopsis, there are three characters that portray mental illness throughout the movie.
Gordon, the main character, seems disturbed from the beginning of the movie. As the scenes unfold, symptoms of schizophrenia begin to arise. In one of the first scenes as Gordon and Phil tour the asylum for an asbestos removal bid, Gordon has his first auditory and visual hallucination. As Gordon intently focuses on a specific room, #444, he sees a shadow move across his face while hearing “Hello, Gordon” (Anderson, 2001). Both kinds of hallucinations go on throughout the movie, in particular when his hallucination eggs him on to kill his wife and baby: “Do it, Gordon!” (Anderson, 2001). In the final scenes of the movie, the voice reappears repeating the same statement as he murders all the employees. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (2011) deliberates that schizophrenic auditory hallucination such as these “often have a negative quality, criticizing or threatening the individuals or telling them to hurt themselves or others” (p. 223). Persecutory delusion forms towards the end of the movie when Gordon believes that Phil is lying about a certain phone call because he thinks Phil killed/hurt Hank. Catanotic excitement is also displayed as Gordon runs aimlessly throughout the asylum looking for Hank, whom had been missing for days. There were several scenes that contained avolition. Many times Gordon sat “daydreaming” in the cemetery, room 444, and in front of his home. Gordon also presented a symptom of sleepwalking, or somnambulism, when he gave Hank a frontal lobotomy. Dr. Prakash Masand (1995) associated sleepwalking with schizophrenia: “The prevalence of somnambulism is 1 to 6 percent in the general adult population, although a higher incidence has been reported in patients with schizophrenia, hysteria and anxiety neuroses.” Not only did Gordon suffer from a mental illness, so did his nephew Jeff.
Jeff, a young chap who needed a job, suffered from situational phobia. In particular he suffered from nyctophobia or in layman’s terms, fear of the dark. On his first day in the asylum, the breaker flips and in turn Mike asks Jeff to go down in the basement to turn it on. Jeff directly tells him he has nyctophobia and will not go down. When he is forced to go down in the basement the first time and has to walk through a slightly dark room, he hurriedly remedies the problem. At the end of the movie in the tunnels, as the lights slowly go out putting Jeff in complete darkness, he has a severe panic attack. The DSM-5 states that Specific Phobia disorder can be diagnosed if the individual shows immediate fear, avoidance and out of proportion reaction to the phobic situation (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011, p. 119). By the same token, patient Mary Hobbes also displays mental illness in the film.
Although former, deceased patient Mary Hobbes never physically appears in Session 9, she makes quite an impression. Mary Hobbes was admitted into the asylum and diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. She had been traumatized by her brother Peter after he scared her causing her to fall on her porcelain doll, which in turn severely cut up her chest. At this point Simon took over Mary and killed Peter with his new hunting knife. In the taped sessions of Mary’s therapy, she does not remember anything that happened, even hysterically stating: “Nothing happened! No! I can’t remember!” (Anderson, 2001). Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (2011) explains that people suffering from dissociative identity disorder usually report significant periods of amnesia when the other personalities are in control (p. 163). Mary displayed three different identities: the Princess as the child alter, which is often associated with the development of dissociative identity disorder; Billy, the protector alter, who protects the individual from trauma; and Simon, the persecutor alter, who often inflicts pain or punishment (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2011, p. 162). Subsequently, the treatment amongst the mentally ill characters was different than the sane characters.
Depending on the situation, characters Gordon, Jeff and Mary were stigmatized or treated with compassion, At first Phil empathizes with Gordon over his fight with his wife. Phil then quickly takes advantage of the situation to get a bigger bonus; he discusses with Mike that they should force Gordon off the project due to his behavior/health. Phil knows Gordon is not in the state of mind to handle being removed, and even says so when he’s smiling to himself on the roof: “It’s gonna get ugly” (Anderson, 2001). Jeff is stigmatized from the moment he announced his phobia. Mike was irritated and called him names like “Mullet Head.” Phil completely disregarded Jeff’s phobia, which forced him to go down into the basement to fix the breaker in the dark. Though Jeff’s mistreatment did exasperate his illness, the mistreatment of Gordon by Phil led the persecutory delusions of Phil hurting Hank. Though I do not condone the mistreatment, there are several other aspects I do enjoy about Session 9.
Session 9 is one of the best independent horror movies, winning best director at the Catalonian International Film Festival in 2001. Considering myself a horror buff since my early twenties, this is one of my favorites. In my opinion, movies are the scariest if they could really happen. The realistic production and general plot make this movie even scarier. As I compared the mental illnesses of the characters to factual data, I realized that the symptoms portrayed were very close to being true to form. Every time I have watched Session 9 I find different aspects to debate or admire. Now that I added abnormal psychology to my mental list, there are even more to ponder!
In conclusion, various mental illnesses symptoms, portrayal, and treatment amongst peers were shown in Session 9. From Gordon’s schizophrenia to Mary’s dissociative identity disorder, to Jeff’s nyctophobia, Session 9 accurately portrays the symptoms and typical mistreatment of the mentally ill. Many fans of the movie think that Mary Hobbes was possessed by Genius Loci, an ancient ideology that a spirit is attached to a place, and in turn possessed Gordon. And in all actuality, who is to say something like a Genius Loci does not exist? Maybe one day science will mesh with the supernatural, or at least get along with each other.
Anderson, B. (Director). (2001).Session 9[DVD].
Masand, Prakash. (1995). Sleep Walking.American Family Physician. http://www.drplace.com/Sleepwalking_-_includes_patient_notes.16.21241.htm
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2011). Abnormal psychology (6th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
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