Borderline Personality Disorder in the Movies

BPD in the moviesLast weekend’s Golden Globe awards kicked off the movie awards season that culminates in the Oscars. The movies nominated this year involve a variety of afflictions, including drug addiction (“The Fighter”), stuttering (“The King’s Speech”),  psychological breakdowns (“Black Swan”), and narcissism (“The Social Network”).

Some of the strongest performances are often given by actors who must portray a character who is dealing with an addiction or mental health disorder. Over the years, a number of movies have included characters with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). They may not have always been officially diagnosed in the movie, but their behaviors certainly demonstrate many of the symptoms of BPD.

Here are some of the most notable movies with characters with Borderline Personality Disorder:

Fatal Attraction (1987)

In “Fatal Attraction,” the infamous femme fatale character played by Glenn Close displays the emotional instability and fear of abandonment that are symptomatic of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her character also exhibits the BPD symptoms of self-harm, intense anger, and manipulation as she stalks her former lover and his family.

Single White Female (1992)

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in “Single White Female” exhibits the Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms of fear of abandonment, impulsivity, and mirroring as she attempts to take over the persona and life of her roommate (Bridget Fonda).

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

“Girl, Interrupted” is based on the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who struggled with mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder as a teenager and young adult. The film, which stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, centers around Kaysen’s 18-month stay at a mental hospital.

The Hours (2002)

The three main characters in “The Hours,” which include author Virginia Woolf, all struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, and suicide. The movie, which links women from different generations to Woolf’s book “Mrs. Dalloway,” stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore.

Monster (2003)

Charlize Theron transformed into the role of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Wuornos was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which may have contributed to the unstable and angry behaviors that led to her killing at least six men.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)

One of the few comedy movies that features a character with Borderline Personality Disorder is “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” In this movie, Uma Thurman portrays a woman with superpowers and a secret identity who also displays the BPD symptoms of impulsivity, unstable interpersonal relationships, and poor self-image.

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Two alums of movies with Borderline Personality Disorder – Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nicole Kidman – pair up in “Margot at the Wedding.” Kidman’s character, who is the sister of Leigh’s, is said to be diagnosed with BPD and exhibits the BPD symptoms of impulsivity and lack of boundaries.

Characters with BPD

Very few movies in Hollywood have portrayed the complexities of people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. As the list above shows, many of them incorporate the mental health disorder into characters of women who are vindictive, murderous, and vengeful. Other movies along that vein include “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” (1992), “The Crush” (1993), and “Chloe” (2009).

Instead of continuing with these more dark and dramatic roles, what type of character with Borderline Personality Disorder would you like to see the movie industry tackle next?

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12 Responses to “Borderline Personality Disorder in the Movies”

  1. lily 03. Feb, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    I want to see a character with BPD portrayed in such a way as so the audience can get an idea of what it’s like to be her/him. It’s much more common for movies to have more empathy in their portrayal of the characters involved with BPD sufferers who are acting out, so it’s easy for the audience to merely view the BPD character as being “evil” or bad, instead of ill and genuinely suffering. Out of all the personality disorders and mental illnesses, BPD probably causes the most intense internal suffereing for the person who lives with it. If you have BPD, you will experience the most intense self-hate and deepest turmoil. It is these extreme feelings that are the catalyst for destructive behaviours … but you don’t see this side in the movies, all you see is the character acting out- nothing of what occurs in the inner world of the character before the acting out behaviour. You only see the suffereing brought to the lives of those around the BPD character, making the BPD seem more like a sociopath, and I think this creates a great deal of misunderstanding as to what BPD is actually like to experience.

  2. Joyce 11. Apr, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Lily, I agree with you totally! They need to make movies that show the agony that we go through every day. Then maybe they wouldn’t judge us so harshly. I enjoyed your comment better than the article above!

  3. Eileen 07. Jun, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    Hello! Great Read! I would like to add the suggestions of “Prozac Nation” and “Mean Girls”.

    As well as some college movies from the 90’s.

  4. Mister E 16. Aug, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    The Burning Plain in 2008 was another great movie with BPD. The casual sex. The harm to herself, (cutting), the lack of self worth.

  5. Dante 22. Sep, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    BPD is often characterized in movies but people don’t recognize it ?
    It’s been shown in its extreme and mostly women. I guess its appropriate
    because its often misdiagnosed according to a recent european twin BPD study.

    Patton (1970)

    A movie about a highly functioning male with BPD.
    General Patton’s inappropriate comments or impulse
    Reaction, e.g. slapping a army soilder. There are numerous
    examples of BPD behavior throughout the movie.

    The Seven Per-cent Solution (1976)

    Other high functioning BPD behavior Sherlock Holmes,
    e.g. “the seven percent solution” or the lastest BBC
    Version of Sherlock. Holmes constant problem with
    Bordom, addiction, wide mood swings. Fit the other side
    Of high functioning individuals with BPD.

  6. shawn 29. Feb, 2016 at 11:24 pm #

    The most notable character I can tell who was Borderline Personality to the T was Clementine (Kate Winslet) from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She screamed BPD. She was impulsive as hell, very clingy at first, feared abandonment, then impulsively left the main protagonist and erased him from her mind. Dyed her hair constantly (unstable self image) and had some pretty wild mood swings, starting off happy and energetic to hostile and insulting all within mere moments. She begged Joel not to leave her but then after drinking and driving (reckless behavior) she flips on him and breaks up with him. She is a fun, lovable person and pretty witty. And her feelings for others changed frequently, from love to hate (splitting)

  7. Jamie 04. Sep, 2016 at 4:17 am #

    Please, nobody watch Girl, Interrupted if you want a good idea of what BPD is. I watched it and was extremely disappointed because Suzanna is told she has BPD but doesn’t properly portray someone who would have it in real life – I would know, I have BPD myself. I’m on a mission to watch all these movies and see which ones actually do portray BPD, and not just the typical ‘textbook’ kind either.

  8. moomoo 16. Mar, 2017 at 5:06 am #

    Welcome to me i was more relate-able to with a bpd diagnoses

  9. krysta archibald 14. Apr, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

    Girl interrupted does in fact reflect bpd behavior but it is not in Suzannas role but rather Angelina Jolie’s character who has both anti social behavior and borderline personality traits.

    Another movie that truly reflects teenage borderline is the movie thirteen, highly recommended, seeing the downfall into drugs, unsafe sex, impulsivity, fear of abandonement, it is one of the best representations i was able to see.
    Of course there are also the movies Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where Clementine shows MANY symptoms of borderline personality disorder, and also the movie 500 days of summer where Sukmers push/pull relationship and fear of commitment reflects alot of a borderline behavior.

  10. cmva 15. Apr, 2017 at 6:04 am #

    To Shawn,
    I agree with you completely. I can totally relate to Clementine on Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. It’s just she’s so lucky that she ended up meeting someone who can take her as she is. Not so many people can handle someone with BPD.

  11. valencia 13. Nov, 2017 at 8:58 pm #

    As someone with BPD that is so severe I am on disability (I fought for YEARS against going to the disability thing. I worked on wall street, I’ve worked so many places… I am saying this only to try and explain that I HATE myself for not being able to “work like normal people”- but it came to a point I had to get on disability. So here I am. I do as much as I can to help others online, I write, I try to do volunteer stuff from home when I can…but I am far too unstable emotionally. BUT I digress…)

    As a BPD my emotions are extreme; I am a zero or a 10… So because I feel hurt and speak about it, it may come across as ‘angry’ and I just wait for those who will say, “oh look see, another angry, in denial borderline”… No… 🙁 Why aren’t people more educated on the “clusters” and “types” of Borderline? If that was the case these stupid movies wouldn’t hurt me as much… But we are all stereotyped as the dominating, hateful, all about me type and that is not a great deal of borderlines…

    I hate movies about BPD because there are none that portray the pain, the struggle, the self sacrificing, the love, the reason for any emotion change, including anger, … we are just labeled totally out of control and tossed aside as entertainment and selfish… ? No… How can we end stigma when we support movies that promote stigma?

    Borderline PD is horrific. It’s hell; but that 1) doesn’t mean we are all the same, 2) we do not cope the same i.e., no we are not all more violent and we are not all narcissistic ? that is absolutely unfathomable to me; borderline and narcissism?!

    I live only because of another person who I want to make the happiest person to exist… I live because I am more than my mental illness, I live because no one can love another person like a borderline for being a zero or 10, when I love the person who is the center of my world; there can’t be any other love like it…. EXCEPT that of another borderline.
    We are not monsters.
    We are not all abusers, I’d even go so far as to say we are mostly far from it.

    Maybe the TRAUMA for the woman who killed 6 men is to blame; not “borderline”…???

    What most people see on TV or in movies is what they accept to be borderline and yes we have many variables but is my point…

    By not showing that we are not all the same -by far!- they all are simply fueling the stigma of a disorder that those who judge us really don’t even known much about, and in the case that they DO know about BPD (such as psychiatrists) the stigma that we are all impossible, angry, abusive and hopeless when it comes to being in a relationship…. I’m not saying it is not a hard to be around me as a BPD, but I work so hard to try and not be a burden… I know others do too…

    We are just like everyone else, but we get labeled because of those that are “hot stories” or whatever…. By ignoring the clusters/types of BPD’s they ignore, they are just continuing the cycle of misinformation, rather, DISINFORMATION, and hurting deeply all other borderlines who aren’t violent, abusive -verbal or physical or etc-; they take people who are nothing like the majority and toss us carelessly under the same label because hey, movies and TV…they don’t lie.

    It just really hurts…People are so under-educated about borderline as a whole…They get their DISinformation from movies like the above and even comments like ”

    I truly LOATHE myself; I hurt myself -and have been since 4 yrs old at least- to try and keep my emotions numb or at least tolerable, and, so that I won’t say something I’ll regret. Not that I don’t mess up.. But that’s not the point.

    Borderline PD is not known like depression, bi polar, etc. When it is mentioned and that’s rare, we are all stereotyped as abusive, somehow narcissistic and apparently very dangerous?

    … Blah.

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