“Fearless”-ness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

After a week of posts featuring scary therapy, I thought, what’s the opposite of scary? For simplicity’s sake, how about “not scary?” And if you’re not scared, isn’t the epitome of this to be fearless?

Which leads me to a movie named—you guessed it—Fearless (1993), which was adapted for the big screen from the novel by Rafael Yglesias (who also wrote the script) and directed by Peter Weir.

Fearless offers a cinematic view of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that’s pretty realistic and definitely worth seeing.

What we know in the beginning of the movie is that a commercial airplane is about to crash. In the final moments before it happens, married architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), a passenger, seems to accept his imminent demise and turns toward comforting other flyers. When he actually survives the disaster, he’s in total shock and disbelief.

Post-crash, Max is changed big-time. While now feeling personally invulnerable and godlike, he’s also emotionally distant from everyone and everything from his former life.

The airline provides Max with a psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Perlman (John Turturro). Although he specializes in PTSD, he ultimately feels unable to get through to Max. So he decides to pair Max with another survivor, Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), whose infant son died in the crash. Dr. Perlman explains this to Carla’s husband:

Dr. Bill Perlman: He and your wife are the only survivors I can’t reach. She won’t talk and he won’t admit the crash was bad.
Manny Rodrigo: Is that right? He says it was good?
Dr. Bill Perlman: Says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Carla is withdrawn and severely depressed in addition to feeling guilt-ridden that she survived the crash and her baby didn’t. While Max tries to help Carla, he also continually exhibits highly risky behavior and in one situation places her in harm’s way as well.

Ultimately, they build a strong friendship, each helping the other heal. And Max starts to learn that miraculously making it through one life-threatening and devastating experience doesn’t mean he can live the rest of his life fearlessly.

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