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“When I grow up, I will go to the fastest aircraft, take off the most high-profile films, and will be the richest man in the world ...” (Barlett & Steele, 2011). Strictly speaking, a person who said these words fulfilled all the promises, and even more. At the age of 25, he made his first film, a total budget of which amounted to about four million dollars. In life, he had three passions: aviation, cinema and women (Brownstein & Solyom, 1986). He was a living legend who had driven the world crazy, and eventually became mad himself. He is Howard Hughes.
Many people know that he was one of the richest men of his time, the legendary aviator, movie producer and playboy. Among other things, Hughes hit the pages of the Guinness World Records three times as the youngest millionaire, as the creator of the largest aircraft, and finally, as an entrepreneur, who paid the greatest amount of taxes with his activities to the state treasury. Until his death in 1976, the personality of Howard Hughes was legendary (Dittmann, 2005). The great director Martin Scorsese showed only a small part of Howard Hughes’s life, but it was enough for a colorful and impressive story that won the heart of both audience and critics. In The Aviator, Scorsese was able to show not only that the talent is both great and ridiculous in nature, but also the fact that the greatness and absurdity support each other, and, thus, such extraordinary personalities like Howard Hughes are born.
The film is relatively divided into two parts. The first part tells about Howard as an ambitious young man while the second one shows him still ambitious, but already with awakened madness. In addition, the audience can even see the very moment when the madness wakes. This is the scene when he burns all his clothes. The film begins with the scene of a little boy who stands in a basin of water, washed by his mom, and letter by letter, they repeat a word that finally drove Hughes mad: q-u-a-r-a-n-t-i-n-e. This is one of the key events of the film and the first explanation of the further psychological disorder the character had.
Howard always strives for perfection. For example, he repeatedly reworks his film because of what he sees in the film that is not quite what he wants. As a result, each new version surpasses the previous one. This person is interested in aviation. Completely incompatible things are combined in this person: creativity, technical thinking, and the ability to own a business. Still, already at that early age, the audience sees that Howard does have some drawbacks. For example, he is a little hard of hearing and neurotic, but, at first, his charisma and talent outshines all these little things. Soon, he meets a rising actress Katharine Hepburn. They have a whirlwind romance, and Howard seems to be already in love with her, but two of these famous people are very difficult to be together. That is when Howard becomes crazy.
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Second part shows absolutely another Hughes. He is increasingly nervous, and breakdowns start to occur more frequently. Nevertheless, he still remains faithful to one thing, which is the basis of his life - aviation. Nothing can stop Howard, even catastrophe of his test aircraft XF-11 in 1946, in which Hughes had 78 percent of his skin burned, got 60 lacerations on his face, smashed nine ribs, had a collapsed lung, a crushed chest, displacement of the heart and other injuries. Subsequent events show that head injury probably also took place since the further strange behavior of Hughes resulted into a complete madness.
Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
From the first moments of watching the film, it is clear that there is something wrong with Howard. Firstly, he seems at least eccentric, but, as film plot develops, it is clear that he has some psychological disorder. From the very beginning, it is noticeable that Howard is afraid of microbes. However, soon enough, other phobias are highlighted as well: Hughes is also afraid of bright light (one can notice it in the scenes with flashes, when he is obviously in panic) and the crowd (it is very clear that in every scene when Howard is among the crowd he feels uncomfortable). The very first diagnosis that seems most likely is obsessive-compulsive disorder. Looking at the character’s behavior during the film, and observing how the disease progresses, one can state that this diagnosis proves to be the right one.
In accord with the diagnosis criteria of the obsessive-compulsive disorders, the behavior in the film totally corresponds to the behavior of the patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder (National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2006). For example, in the movie, Howard continuously washes his hands with his own soap. Sometimes, such washing even results in a cut due to the intensity of friction between hands during the process. These actions are meant to prevent the distress from being infected with something, but the very existence of this ritual causes the distress and panic in Howard’s mind (National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2006). Also, Howard is threatened by the images of microbes and by the idea that he could get an infection from everywhere (this is why he avoids handshakes, is distressed by fingerprint on the glass, has a panic attack when someone takes a pea from his plate, etc.). What is important, the character cannot control these ideas and images and they also distress him (National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2006). Thus, one can see that these signs directly indicate the compulsion and obsession of the character. In addition, the fact that the symptoms are repeated continuously points to the obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis.