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Psychological disorders in the film, “Walk the Line."

Students and experts in psychology have a great deal to learn about the fascinating field of psychology from motion pictures. The findings related to particular psychiatric conditions and therapies are portrayed in several movies. Moreover, the films illustrate the potential of individuals with mental disabilities under many situations to achieve considerable success. One such famous movie that provides thought-provoking insights into psychological conditions is 'Walk the Line,' a film directed by James Mangold. The film focuses on the life of John Cash in the US Air Force from his childhood years onwards, and his rise to the music arena. The movie also depicts Cash's relationships with his father Ray, brother, Jack, first wife Vivian, and most importantly, his romance with June Carter. Specifically, the movie provides insights into substance use disorders and trauma and stressor-related disorders through the life of the characters, John Cash and Ray.

One of the major psychological disorders displayed in the film is Trauma and stressor-related disorder. Based on the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria the movies’ main protagonist, John Cash, was living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the diagnostic classification of PTSD, the first criterion that a person has to meet is the exposure to a traumatizing event (Pai et al. 2). At twelve years old, John Cash witnessed the death of his older brother, Jack. His brother died because of an accident that involved operating an unguarded sawmill (Mangold). The event was rather traumatizing to John Cash as besides being his brother; Jack was also Cash’s close friend. His emotions towards Jack can be seen as he shouts, “Do something!” Amidst tears on Jack's deathbed (Mangold). Therefore, the loss of his brother was a traumatic event. Besides, Cash also met the symptom criteria outlined in DSM-5. For instance, Cash had recurrent and intrusive disturbing memories of Jack’s death. For instance, the film opens with Cash’s 1968 concert at Folsom Prison, where he seems to be lost in thought as he recollects the events leading to his brother’s death (Mangold). It is at this point that the audience is introduced to who John Cash is. The flashback seems to have been triggered by the image of a sawmill at the prison.

The other PTSD symptom is avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the occurrence (Pai et al. 4). In a conversation with June Carter, she enquires about Jacks death and Cash admits that he has not spoken about Jack in a long time (Mangold). Cash, however, tries to justify that it is because people got tired of listening to him talk about Jack, but it is evident that he is distressed by the loss. Also, Cash exhibited adverse changes in mood and cognition (Pai et al. 4). For example, he had difficulty falling asleep and stayed up most nights. Also, he was highly irritable as depicted when he slams the wall as Vivian tries to explain to him that they are not doing well financially and should, thus, seek her father's help (Mangold). Furthermore, when Sam Philips questions Cash’s choice of music, he shows some annoyance as he feels that the producer thinks he does not believe in God. Furthermore, Cash’s question, “You got anything against the Air Force?” also shows his level of irritation (Mangold). Lastly, Cash also seems to blame himself for Jack’s death. He seems to be haunted by the guilt of his brother’s death and even admits, “My daddy’s Right. Should have been me on that saw” (Mangold). Therefore, John Cash meet the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

Substance use disorders have also been depicted in the film. For instance, Ray, Cash’s father was dependent on alcohol. The movie does not present specific cases where Ray is drunk but based on his interaction with other characters; the audience can deduce that he had alcohol use disorder. For instance, Carrie says, "And I'm not the one in Bardstown drinking Every Saturday," indicating Ray's alcohol use (Mangold). Furthermore, Ray also admits at a Thanksgiving dinner with John Cash that he had quit drinking alcohol, showing that he was once dependent on alcohol. Also, Ray was socially impaired illustrated with his inability to relate well with his family, especially Cash, whom he neglected and considered to be worth nothing (Mangold).

The film, however clearly depict Cash’s addiction and dependence on stimulants (amphetamines). Cash showed impaired control. He used amphetamines for more extended periods and in high dosages as opposed to when he started using the pills. Furthermore, he spent most of his time intoxicating and would take long hours to recover. Due to the intoxication, he once collapsed on the stage while performing (Mangold). Also, he was socially impaired following the drug use, a condition that led to the end of his first marriage. Furthermore, due to continued use, Cash's tours were canceled. Cash was also involved in risky behaviors. For instance, he operated a truck while intoxicated and almost drowned in a river. After continued use, Cash developed tolerance symptoms as he increased the number of pills he took. He is even depicted smuggling the pills in his guitar, an act that results in his arrest (Mangold). However, as the movie comes to an end, with the help of June Carter, Cash withdraws from stimulant use.

The other characters showed specific reactions to John Cash and Ray. For example, Carrie continually tried to talk Ray out of releasing his anger on Cash, "Leave him alone Ray" (Mangold). Carrie tried to protect Cash from Ray’s physical and emotional abuse. On the other hand, Vivian’s reactions towards Cash was rather different. At first, she was supportive of Cash, but after developing the stimulant use disorder, Vivian is frustrated by Cash's neglect of the family and leaves him. Conversely, Ray does not relate well to Cash as he is filled with rage and resentment for him. Despite, Cash’s remorse over Jack’s death, Ray seizes any opportunity to blame Cash for the loss, “He took the wrong son” (Mangold). However, June Carter relates well to Cash and supports him regardless of his addiction to amphetamines. In fact, June helps Cash withdraw from amphetamine use.

I deem that the film's depiction of the psychological disorders was somewhat accurate. For instance, the PTSD symptoms were consistent with DSM-5 criteria for PTSD. Also, the stimulant use disorder was also accurately depicted. However, the symptoms of alcohol use disorder were not adequately displayed considering that Ray's life was not the center stage of the movie. Therefore, the audience can only deduce that Ray was dependent on alcohol from the evaluation of the other characters' reaction to him. Regardless, overall, ‘Walk the Line' provided great insight into Trauma and Stressor-related disorders as well as substance use disorders. It is a film that can be used to enhance the understanding of psychological disorders.

Works Cited

Pai, Anushka, et al. "Posttraumatic stress disorder in the DSM-5: Controversy, change, and conceptual considerations." Behavioral Sciences, vol. 7, no. 7, 13 Feb. 2017, pp. 1-7, doi:10.3390/bs7010007.

Walk the Line. Directed by James Mangold, Perf. Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon. 2005.

July 24, 2021

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