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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Enduring Love

Introduction

Based on the novel written by Ian McEwan, Enduring Love is an intense and powerful film telling the story of a shared traumatic event that leads to the stalking of one character by another with ultimately very serious consequences. It is rated as an 18 certificate.

Directed by Roger Michell in 2004 and starring Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans as the main protagonists, Enduring Love presents an account of several lives affected by stalking, including that of the stalker. The director has stated that it is a film about the ability of love to endure the tests of life and the ups and downs of relationships. The author of the book, Ian McEwan, describes his novel as an exploration of obsession in various forms. Both of these threads come together in the film.

 

Enduring Love

The Film

Enduring Love begins with an idyllic countryside scene in which university lecturer, Joe, has planned a champagne picnic for his girlfriend, sculptor Claire, with the intention of proposing marriage. However, this perfect moment is interrupted by the appearance of a hot air balloon in trouble. Several other people in the vicinity, along with Joe, join in a rescue attempt, and all witness the dramatic events that follow. Of all of those present that day, it is Joe and another man named Jed, who find themselves alone together witnessing a horribly disfigured body.

In the days and weeks after the accident, we watch Joe’s struggle to process the horrific events of the balloon accident. The film demonstrates some of the post-traumatic experiences that an individual may have. In particular, we hear Joe struggle with survivor guilt and watch him experience numerous visual triggers that remind him of balloons as he tries to go about his everyday life. It is perhaps this mental state which renders him more vulnerable to the unwanted attention of Jed, whose initial contact after the accident seems so plausible. However, Jed’s repeated contact with Joe gradually builds in intensity until Claire suggests that Joe might need help to deal with Jed’s unwanted attentions.

 

Joe believes that he can manage the situation himself, but he and Claire start to suffer from the stress of being stalked and this threatens their relationship. The tone of the film darkens when Jed starts to involve Claire in his stalking, and we discover that he believes she is an obstacle him and Joe being together. Joe’s mental health deteriorates further as we see his, initially well meaning, attempts to reason with Jed fail and we witness his descent into irrational, angry behaviour and depression.

Towards the end of the film, both Joe and Jed are consumed by violent behaviour, reminding us of the significant danger that can befall any victim of stalking, in extreme cases.

 

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

Enduring Love offers the opportunity to understand empathically how it feels to suffer the protracted harassment experienced by a victim of stalking. It depicts the sense of intrusion, violation and isolation, experienced by the victim, which slowly escalates, producing intolerable stress that may cause them to become mentally ill. The film also demonstrates the fact that there is always a potential risk of violence to the victim and that this should be kept in mind when making an assessment.

As we watch Enduring Love, we see Joe break all of the fundamental rules recommended for dealing with stalkers. Perhaps it is because Joe has shared a traumatic event with Jed, and is struggling to process the experience, that initially he believes he is dealing with a reasonable person who was similarly affected by the accident. Indeed, Joe says that he feels sorry for Jed. The film brilliantly records Joe’s gradual realisation that Jed is not behaving reasonably at all. A victim of stalking is never advised to meet with, contact or attempt to reason with their stalker, as this usually just fuels the stalker’s abnormal behaviour. The film demonstrates this escalation brilliantly.

 

From a psychiatric viewpoint, a review article in March 2000 entitled Stalking – a contemporary challenge for forensic and clinical psychiatry; J.H.Kamphuis and P.M.G. Emmelkamp (British Journal of Psychiatry (2000), 176, 206-209) provides an excellent introduction to the topic, with particular focus on the underlying mental health problems found in those that stalk. In essence, stalkers fall into two distinct categories: those that have had some form of relationship with the victim and those that have had no real relationship at all and, the authors state, they usually suffer from either a psychotic disorder or a personality disorder. The article reminds us that stalking is an abnormal behaviour, not a diagnosis, and that it is important to determine the underlying pathology before any treatment can be recommended. In Enduring Love, Jed is seen to suffer from a delusional disorder, erotomania (also known as de Clerambault’s syndrome), believing that there is some special love relationship between himself and Joe. This is evidenced by various signs he has misinterpreted from Joe, such as the gentle touch that Joe makes on Jed’s shoulder when they both discover the body at the start of the film or Joe’s opening and closing of his curtains.

 

Those working in the health professions are at particular risk of being stalked (20% risk over the course of a career), with a higher risk in forensic and general adult psychiatry than in other subspecialties.

With an increasing number of cases reported in the UK media, there has been a move to improve the support given to victims of stalking and harassment, especially by the police. New guidelines published in August 2009 by the Association of Chief Police Officers have given advice on how such cases should be investigated. With this increasing general public awareness, the Home Office, supported by several charitable organizations, has financed a National Stalking Helpline (0300 636 0300) for victims needing confidential support and guidance.

 

The website Protection against Stalking has an excellent page of facts on the subject, including some Do’s and Don’ts for managing any unwanted attention from another person. This page also provides a link to the downloadable Stalking and Harassment Risk Identification Checklist (S-DASH 2009), which gives some indication of whether there may be an increased risk of violence in each individual case.

Enduring Love could act as an excellent springboard for education and discussion about the various types of psychopathology that are associated with stalking and the strategies for the treatment of both stalkers and their victims. As a portrayal of a delusional disorder, the film gives some incredibly accurate examples of the kind of things that someone with erotomania might say about, or to, their victim. I would highly recommend this film to anyone thinking of working in the forensic mental health field.

 

Minds on Film blog is written by Dr Joyce Almeida.

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.