“The Aviator” and OCD
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This movie is a biographical look at the life of Howard Hughes. It gives fairly accurate look at this man’s life from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. During this time Hughes was involved in directing movies, and piloting test planes produced by his own aviation company, Hughes Aircraft. This movie shows a harsh reality to Hughes’ overwhelming affliction with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and how he coped with the disease.
Hughes was an orphan by the age of 17. Hughes father was an inventor who left him a majority of a tool company when he died. After college Hughes moved to Los Angeles to be a movie producer. He jump started the career of actors like Jean Harlow in his movie “Hell’s Angels.” Shortly after his try with Hollywood, Hughes started into the career of aviation. The focus of the movie surrounds Hughes involvement with his company Hughes Aircraft. Many side stories of romances, such and the one between Hughes and Ava Gardner, or Katharine Hepburn pop up throughout the movie. There is an ongoing battle between Hughes and Pan Am’s Juan Trippe, who bribed Senator Owen Brewster into giving Pan Am a monopoly on international air travel. The even greater battle played out in the movie, was the effects of the OCD on Hughes life.
OCD was portrayed in a very realistic manner in this movie. Dr Jeffrey Schwartz could be responsible for Leonardo DiCaprio’s ability to play the role of Hughes with extreme OCD. Schwartz is a neuroscientist and UCLA, and help Leo with his ability to play the part of someone with OCD. DiCaprio spent many days with Schwartz and even met some of his patients observing the reality of the disease in order to better his OCD acting.
Hughes was extremely obsessive about cleanliness, and compulsive in his attempts to remain clean. In several scenes it shows just how uncontrollable the disease can be. The inability to control the repetitive phrases is something that obviously causes Hughes some distressed. For example, at the end of the movie Hughes is talking about jet engines being the “Wave of the future.” Only he repeats “Wave of the Future, wave of the future, wave of the future…” until his friends take him away.
In the scene where Hughes is in his personal theater nude, urinating in jars, and drinking only milk was a glimpse of the worst OCD can get. His avoidance of germs had taken him so far as to remove him from society all together. A point that by today’s standard would have gotten him inpatient care in order to try and correct his OCD. He avoids contact with everyone and everything that could be contaminated during this severe episode. You see the compulsive repetition of words almost as if there is no way for him to stop.
With the knowledge of his disease, those that knew about it used it to there advantage. The senator purposefully dirtied his glass during a meeting, and served fish just to make Hughes uneasy. The whole plan of the senator holding a hearing to try and prove Hughes guilty of wasting the government’s money was aimed at his weakness. It was common knowledge that Hughes disliked crowds. Pan-Am and the senator knew that Hughes would be very uncomfortable in a court room full of people, and germs. They thought this would be an advantage to them, making Hughes easily removed from the equation. With Hughes guilty of fraud, Pan Am would get rights to all international travel and push Hughes Airlines out of business.
The amazing story in all of this was that Hughes didn’t just let his severe illness get the best of him. Hughes controlled it regardless of a lack of treatment in that time. Hughes was successful in repelling the attacks during the hearing; along with every other incident where his disability of should have gotten the best of him.
Today there are some treatments for OCD. Behavior therapy has had some success in treating or improving the severity of this disease. This treatment involves the patient realizing the particular thoughts that are unreasonable and learning to control them. During the early to mid 1900’s there wasn’t any treatment or knowledge of OCD. This led to a very hard life for many with OCD because there wasn’t a lot of options, but to fight it. Hughes’ story was an amazing one because he had a fairly normal life despite his overwhelming OCD.
Not all is good for Howard Hughes. Regardless of his abilities to control his problem early in his life, the situation progressed. Hughes died at the age of 71 in the Acapulco Princess Hotel in Mexico. His OCD had got the best of him and he died mostly of starvation, and his windows and doors were sealed with masking tape.
I think that most would agree with the Roger Ebert, “”What a sad man. What brief glory. What an enthralling film, 166 minutes, and it races past.” Even though this disorder is common this movie shows how bad it can get. Hughes overcame a great handicap to succeed even when others tried to exploit his weakness.
Logan, John. The Aviator (2004). Director Martin Scorsese.
Ebert, Roger. Roger Ebert & the Movies. 2004. Quote.