Are you just as excited for the upcoming first part of the new Star Wars Trilogy starting in December? Well, then this is fun for you: In 2011, Eric Bui, an Italian psychiatrist from the Toulouse University Clinic, published a letter to the editor in a serious psychiatric journal, in which he applied diagnostic criteria for mental disorders on none other than Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader. Bui stated that Skywalker fulfiled various criteria sufficiently in order to get a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The symptoms Ani fulfilled included
- anger issues (Patience you must learn, young padawan…)
- sudden changes between idealisation and degradation in relationships with close persons (could be applied on his relationship with Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Jedi Master),
- an incomplete sense of identity, an incapacity of feeling his inner self (indicated by sudden changes of personality – the changing of his name might count as an indicator)
- an excruciating fear of losing his partner (talking of
Natalie PortmanPadme Amidala here)
- experiencing dissociative episodes due to stressful events (dissociative episodes refer to a condition in which patients can’t feel their body or experience their surroundings as not feeling “real”. The article e.g. interpretes the moment when Anakin kills a whole tribe after discovering the death of his mother as an dissociative episode.).
As a conclusion (and justification for it, if you ask me), the essay lists three reasons why this investigation might be helpful in real life: 1.) It might explain the appeal of Star Wars to adolescents, as (sane) adolsecents are known to show a lot of these symptoms due to their normal development. 2.) It aims at reducing social stigmatization of people suffering from BPD. 3.) It might be useful in order to illustrate the main features of the illness and to train future psychiatrists and psychologists.
Even though I am very fond of the whole Star Wars universe, and enthusiastically enjoy to apply psychological knowledge to popcultural phenomena and characters, I still see the danger of hurting the feelings of people actually suffering from this horrible and excruciating disease. It might be received as offensive, either because it apparently makes fun of symptoms that severly impede their everyday lives or by apparently declaring them as morally flawed by comparing them to one of the worst villans of all movie history. But this is just one side of the story.
If you read the article closely, you’ll realize that there’s not one sentence in it that makes fun of people with BPD, but that it is driven by the desire to understand what the subjective reality of this people has to look like. It also states possible traumas in the autobiography of Anakin Skywalker, as shown in the movies, that are known to be vulnerability factors to BPD (lack of a father, early seperation from the mother, not to mention growing up in poor and dangerous surroundings, and having been sold as a slave). Furthermore, I feel like, if anything, the whole point of the Prequel Trilogy is for the audience to identify with Anakin, even though he does all these terrible things – in order to allow the audience to relate to him. Why does he do this? It’s probably not right – but you still can relate to it. And, in my opinion, this is exactly the attitude sane people need in order to be able to understand subjective realites and perceptions of people with mental disorders, even though they don’t experience the same feelings as these people.
Obviously, various pop cultural magazines picked up on the article. There even is a professional reply to the investigation in the same journal that questions the diagnosis, stating that other Cluster B personality disorders as narcissistic or antisocial personality disorders might have a better overall fit to Skywalker. The article I liked the most (from Wired) concluded with a statement by Carolyn Kaufman, a clinical psychologist from Columbus, Ohio, who said, probably with a winking eye:
As for the 30-year-old Star Wars series, “We’re probably lucky nobody has started analyzing the lightsabers as phallic symbols,” said clinical psychologist Kaufman. “Come to think of it, someone probably has.”
- The article itself: Bui, E., Rodgers, R., Chabrol, H, Birmes, P., & Schmitt, L. (2011). Is Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder? Psychiatry Research, 185, 1-2.
- The response: Filardi da Rocha, F., Malloy-Diniz, L., & Correa, H. (2012). Letter to the Editor: Revisiting the Anakin Skywalker diagnostic: Transcending the diagnostic criteria. Psychiatry Research, 198, 179.
- Wired.com: Anakin Skywalker: Borderline Personality, Bipolar or Narcissist?