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The Three Faces of Eve and dissociative identity disorder

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Although dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder) is extremely rare and difficult to diagnose, it seems to be awfully popular with numerous Hollywood interpretations. The Three Faces of Eve does a fairly admirable job of conveying the disorder even though information defining the illness was (and still is) limited at the time the movie was made.

Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane, all played by Joanne Woodward, had distinct personalities. Eve White was the quiet, submissive homemaker who loved her husband and adored her little girl. She had very little personality and was displayed as being in a depressed state. Eve Black, on the other hand, was Mrs. White’s polar opposite. She was flirtatious, enjoyed an active night life, and despised Mrs. White’s husband. Jane, who was not in the picture until the end of the conflict, was the perfect combination of the both of them. She was kind-hearted and sweet. She cared for others while also caring for herself. Each character’s distinct personality was portrayed adequately in the film.

Eve White’s family life was portrayed very well and was very realistic according to her situation. It is not rare for a husband to leave his wife when she is diagnosed with a disorder, especially one like dissociative identity disorder. It would be hard to live with someone who claimed to be someone else at times and acted in a completely different manner than the person one married. It would also not be rare for someone with this disorder to have their children taken away from them, especially if possible harm of the child may come from the situation. Eve’s personalities caused problems in her household and though many years passed by without action being taken, it got to the point where the situation could no longer remain the same.

In dissociative disorder, it is possible for a person to have many distinct personalities. It is possible to “forget” things that just happened, and it is also possible for one personality to know of another. The film had an appropriate portrayal of each of these aspects of the disorder. Though Mrs. White was not aware of Ms. Black or when she was coming or going, Ms. Black was aware of everything that went on with Mrs. White. Later in the film as Jane appears, she is aware of the two other women although they are not conscious of what happens when she “comes out.” It is known to be quite possible for this awareness and lack there of to occur with the illness and was appropriately portrayed in the film.

The writers of The Three Faces of Eve were correct when choosing to base the film on a female character. Although it is said that the film was based on a true life case (although that case documented over twenty different personalities), it was that much more believable in that dissociative identity disorder occurs more frequently in females than it does in males.

One problem found with the portrayal of the three different personalities would be the switch from one to another. The onset of another personality in people with this disorder is commonly noted as being triggered by some type of extreme stress or trauma. As seen with Mrs. White/ Ms. Black/ Jane, this was not always the case. The beginning of the movie depicted a depressed Mrs. White in an argument with her husband which forced her opposite personality, Ms. Black, to appear. But later in the movie the doctor would simply ask to speak to each personality and it would appear. There was no traumatic event or stressful occurrence to cue this onset and seemed to be very unlikely to be able to occur in this manner in a real life scenario.

Also, the physical switch from one personality to the next was rather unbelievable. It was almost comical when Mrs. White would bow her head and close her eyes in mid sentence and “wake up” as Ms. Black. Though it is perfectly acceptable to note that one personality can appear out of nowhere with no prior warning in patients with dissociative identity disorder, it is hard to believe that it happens in this manner. The switch seems to occur the way it does only to forewarn the audience of a shift in character. It is easy to tell when Ms. Black is being portrayed with her change in clothes, makeup and flirtatious behavior in certain scenes, but when the actual “switch” is occurring on camera, the film makers had to have a way of ensuring the audience would be able to catch on.

This brings up the methodology used in the treatment of the patient. There are many possible treatments that are available, including relaxation therapy, cognitive modification, drugs and sedatives, and hypnotherapy. The later of these causes great debates among the psychological community and is denounced by many, yet it is the therapy of choice in the film. Hypnosis, though used by so few psychologists and psychiatrists, seems to be among the top used therapies in movies. Though the process used in this particular film to place the patient in a hypnotic state seems to be more realistic than those used in many other movies, it is still lacking. The process of placing oneself or another person in a hypnotic state is a fairly intense procedure of relaxation.

Though, like the movie portrays, counting (backwards or forwards) is often used in hypnosis, it frequently is preceded by a brief, calming story of sorts to clear the patient’s head and place him/her in a calm state of mind. There may be better, more efficient ways to treat a patient with dissociative identity disorder, but the movie itself would not be nearly as exciting or intriguing to the general public if hypnosis was not used. Another problem noted in the use of hypnosis in the film is the positioning of Mrs. White/ Ms. Black/ Jane. She, for the most part, is sitting in a rigid, uncomfortable chair. Most psychological hypnosis is done with the patient lying comfortably on a couch or similar piece of furniture with their limbs distanced from their body. This positioning allows for complete relaxation. It would be extremely difficult for a therapist to achieve their goal of treatment if the setting and conditions were not conducive.

Yet another problem noted with the film would be the actual onset of the second and third personality. Being that dissociative identity disorder is extremely rare, it is assumed that the event(s) that takes place to arouse the disorder would tend to be extremely traumatic. It may be possible that a traumatic event in childhood causes the disease. With this in mind, the film’s interpretation of a traumatic event can be analyzed. The purpose of the hypnosis was not only to cure the patient, but to ultimately find the cause behind all of the madness.

The film itself revolves around this particular point and would really have no plot, climax, or real meaning if not for the ultimate goal of a cure for this poor, helpless woman. The entire movie is built up to the revealing of this information. The doctor finally uncovers that the event that took place when Mrs. White was six or seven was that she had to kiss her grandmother while she lay dead in her casket. The belief at the time was that if you kissed the dead before they were buried, you would be able to let go of them and it would make the mourning process less painful. For the little girl, this event was horrifying and she really did not wish to kiss her grandmother. It is hard to believe, although different events hold different levels of trauma and anguish to different people, that this would cause dissociative identity disorder, especially because it is so rare. It has also been noted that these traumatic events often occur in a critical period for the patients, yet Mrs. White did not seem to be facing any type of critical period at the time.

Yet another problem with the onset of these personalities can be noted with the third personality to appear: Jane. Unlike Ms. Black who was said to be around since the event that took place when Mrs. White was a young child, Jane came into the picture rather late. She did not “appear” until the disorder got to the point that it was almost out of control. Jane was the resolution to the problem and her purpose was that and only that. The onset of this third personality was not caused by any traumatic event, she was simply there to portray the ID type personality that would be the balance of the other two extremes. She had a devil on one side and an angel on the other and her purpose was to provide an ending point for the story. Jane was simply a Hollywood character that had no actual psychological background for appearing in the film what-so-ever.

The final issue noted with the movie was the actual doctor himself. Not only were his procedures in treating the disorder and the patient questionable, but the way in which he diagnosed the disorder was rather strange as well. Being as though dissociative identity disorder is still noted as rare and hard to diagnose properly today, it would have been nearly impossible to see a person only one or two times and be absolutely certain that they had multiple personalities. Though today’s standards are extremely different from those held of the psychological community back then, there would still be an extensive process one would have to go through before diagnosing someone with dissociative identity disorder. Yes, the doctor in the movie did seek the advice of an older partner, but they did both note that they had never seen a case of “multiple personality disorder” before. How would it be possible to diagnose such a thing properly without looking at research and other articles to determine whether or not a hunch was correct. The older doctor even stated that he had never seen a case before, but he knew he would be able to tell a fake if he saw one. He even went on to say that he was certain that Eve White was a fake and saw no reason to continue treatment. Diagnosing this disorder takes numerous tests and endless hours of observation. It would be pure luck to pinpoint this on someone with such little information

Another question comes to mind when observing the doctors character. His professional stature comes under fire throughout the film, especially at the end. Under no circumstance would a doctor be able to tell his patient, even if asked, that he/she found them attractive and if it were not for the fact that they had a doctor/patient relationship that he/she would have been interested in a romantic relationship much less to imply that he/she may act on these impulses. In the real world this would be grounds for a law suit and sexual harassment charges. Again, this was just Hollywood adding a romantic avenue to the film that had no meaning except to indulge the audience. Though these relationships do occur, it is extremely unprofessional of the doctor and could be absolutely detrimental to the well being, health, and possible “cure” of the patient. In fact, it often occurs that a patient may hit on or make an advance on their doctor, but it is the responsibility of that doctor to keep anything from happening.

All-in-all the movie was a fair portrayal of the life of a person that was living with dissociative identity disorder. Though many flaws in the psychological stature could be noted throughout the film, it was well executed for the little information held on the disorder at the time. The movie opened up a whole new chapter on the disorder and really helped to gain public interest on the matter which it would not have been able to accomplish without the addition of a romance story and some dramatic instances. Since this movie, numerous others have been made to try and capture the true essence of dissociative identity disorder but few have been able to accomplish the feat with such dignity. With the help of The Three Faces of Eve, the psychological community made advances in the treatment and diagnoses of DID that may possibly have taken a long time to be (or may have never been) made.

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