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Running head: Movie Review: Fearless

MOVIE REVIEW: FEARLESS


I CANT LIVE AS A COWARD
Matthew John Brennan
Hodges University

PSY3007
Dr. Arway
October 10, 2012

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.


In 1993s Fearless, Jeff Bridges plays the generic successful businessman Max Klein
who finds himself leading a group of survivors out of a horrific plane crash. Through flashbacks,
the film director, Peter Weir slowly builds the story of a man who accepts his own death and is
transformed by the experience. In that unmentioned moment of truth that everyone wonders
about and dreads at the same time, Max is able to let go of fear and live life for the first time.
The movie presents as a bit of a conundrum. The story of Maxs transformation in the
plummeting airplane is ostensibly about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and at the same
time his diametrically opposed aphobic (lack of fear) personality change. Beneath this veneer,
Jeff Bridges character gains a surreal sense of clarity and sees the trees for the forest. This
new clarity puts tremendous strain on his family as Max seeks out new experiences, emotionally
shedding his old life.
The PTSD angle of this film is depicted conventionally. The PTSD diagnosis was added
to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American
Psychiatric Association in 1980 for the third revision of the manual (DSM-III). Since DSM-III a
fourth version was published in 2000, which is much updated on the subject of PTSD. As an
aside it should also be noted that DSM-V will be released in March of 2013. In 1993 when the
movie was released, PTSD was characterized by DSM-III (309.89) as symptoms following a
psychologically distressing event that is outside the range of usual human experience. The
original stressor is usually experienced with intense fear, terror, and/or helplessness.
There are five diagnostic criteria that must be met(Diagnostic and statistical manual of
mental disorders, 1980). In Max Kleins case, he met all of them to some degree. First, he
experienced a significant stressor. Second, he re-experienced or re-lived the event through

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.

dreams, dissociative episodes and even panic attacks while being exposed to stressor symbols.
Where the movie does not fall in line with the book definition of PTSD is in the third and
fourth criteria. The former is the persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma
and the latter, which is increased arousal not present before the trauma for example, difficulty
falling asleep, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance and an exaggerated startle response. In
the movie, Max Klein has found solace in his new aphobic outlook. He is not weighted down
living through the traumatic accident; in fact, he seems to have left all that behind and has found
a new mission for his life, helping a young mother cope with the loss of her child. Max Klein
definitely does not avoid revisiting the accident in his mind. Directly after the accident he insists
on flying home first class on the same airline, he befriends a child he helped comfort during the
accident, he goes out of his way to confront the accident. The fifth criterion is that the
disturbance must have a duration of at least a month.
Klein does not present as a typical PTSD sufferer as the term is contemporarily known
now in the context of returning service members who witnessed and lived through traumatic
events. Through the personal perspective of the author as a combat veteran, the beast known as
PTSD and defined by the DSM-IV is very different from what is portrayed. Veterans coping
with the issue generally have very physical symptoms such as heightened startle responses to
loud noises, panic attacks in crowded environments, night terrors, short attention spans, easily
disdainful towards those around them, etc. Klein did exhibit periodic panic attacks during the
movie, but they all seemed to lead to euphoric ends, where the character released his stress and
found freedom from his fear.
For the author, the interesting character trait that Max Klein exhibited, which has not
been talked about, at least in association with a PTSD setting, is the aphobic or lack of fear

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.

reaction to extreme trauma. In the introduction, this reaction was described as a moment of
truth. For the author this moment of truth was the answer to a question asked every day since
making the decision to join the Marine Corps. perhaps even farther back to September 11, 2001
which was the true traumatic event. The question, stated simply, What will I do when the first
bullet flies by? The author experienced the same realization that Max did as the plane was
plummeting out of the sky. Death is all around us, there is nothing to be done except wade
through it and do the best you know how. Once this truth is accepted, a huge burden is lifted off
your mind. The once impossible is now not only possible, but is the new normal. The question
once answered allows one to refocus on the important things while exuding calm and confidence.
This new freedom is not carelessness. It does not deny the danger of a situation; it only
informs the rational part of the brain that cowers you, that keeps you from running towards
bullets that death cannot be avoided. Death simply must be accepted. The movie depicted this
truth brilliantly in two places. First as Max got up out of his seat and walked towards the young
boy who was flying alone to comfort him as the plane was crashing and second as he was
buckling in the young mother with toolbox, into his car as he was about to demonstrate that even
during a relatively low speed crash that it would be impossible for her to hold onto her child. In
both cases, he put on a seatbelt, not because he was fool hardy and careless, but because he was
still a rational person. He simply accepted death if it was coming for him.
During the closing moments of the film, Kleins wife is flipping through her husbands
artwork, becoming ever more alarmed at the dark sinister theme of a dark circle interpreted over
and over by Max. At the bottom of the stack she eventually flips to a print of Boschs oil on
wood partial triptych, Ascent of the Blessed (Bosch, 1504). In this religious depiction, mortal
souls are being lifted by angels through a long dark tunnel towards the blinding light of heaven.

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.

What makes this piece interesting is that the souls of the dead are depicted starkly naked as they
ascend into heaven. All the considerations of their former worldly life have been stripped of
them and they are only able to ascend in their pure form, free from torment, free from fear. This
theme of aphobia is what makes Max special. He has let go of his torment, his fear and is not
counted among the dead. He is a ghost among the living. Nothing could be more liberating,
more eudimonious. Max decries that he cant live as a coward.(Weir, 1993)

Movie Review: I cant live as a coward.

References
Bosch, H. (1504). Ascent of the Blessed. 86.5 x 39.5 cm. Retrieved from
http://uploads4.wikipaintings.org/images/hieronymus-bosch/ascent-of-the-blessed-1504.jpg
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-III. (1980). (3rd ed.). Washington, DC:
American Psychiatric Association.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. (2000). (4th ed.). Washington,
DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Fearless (1993; film). (2012, October 11).Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fearless_(1993_film)&oldid=516153598
Subcommittee on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of the Committee on Gulf War and Health:
Physiologic, Psychologic, and Psychosocial Effects of Deployment-Related Stress. (2006).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Diagnosis and Assessment. The National Academies Press.
Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11674&page=R1
Weir, P. (1993). Fearless. Drama.