5 Supposedly Brilliant Movie Doctors Who Suck at Their Job
Everyone who has ever watched a movie knows that reality gets tweaked to allow for more car chases and emotional epiphanies. Unfortunately for the medical profession, this means that movies are full of doctors who are terrible at being doctors. Don't know what we mean? Well, consider ...
Dr. Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense Is Fine With Talking to No One
In The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, who is supposed to be one of the best child psychologists in Philadelphia. He won an award from the mayor and (spoiler alert, in case you waited 14 years to see this movie) even the obstacle of being dead doesn't stop him from trying to help kids.
"Immortality really helps you focus on your long-term goals."
In the movie's prologue, Crowe is shot and killed by a deranged former patient. Thinking he survived the gunshot, the ghost of the doctor just goes on with his normal life. He meets an especially troubled kid named Cole (Haley Joel Osment), the product of a broken home whose favorite hobby is hiding in churches and whispering Latin to board game pieces. Cole has mysterious cuts and bruises all over, and claims to see dead people (which, unbeknownst to Crowe, is the only reason the two of them can communicate).
The movie then shows us what a great, empathetic psychiatrist Crowe is, even in spirit form. Making a strong connection with Cole almost immediately, Crowe becomes Cole's voice of reason and sanity, going far beyond the call of duty to provide him with stability and advice and help him come to terms with his gift (or curse, as the case may be).
But Wait a Minute ...
The fact that Crowe can't talk to anyone but Cole is ... a fairly big problem here.
Perhaps he has always communicated by writing on fogged glass.
If you've forgotten, the key plot twist is that only the kid can see Crowe's ghost -- Crowe talks to Cole and no one else. Which means that one thing Crowe, genius child psychologist and literal child savior, doesn't do in his ardent mission to help this poor kid is talk to the kid's mother. Or teachers. Or anyone else that an actual child psychologist would be interested in talking to in order to gain some much-needed context and perspective on his patient.
Although after the Munchausen-by-proxy mom, can you really blame him?
Now, the movie excuses Crowe's lack of interaction with the world in general because he's deluded about the fact that he's dead -- his wife doesn't speak to him, but he assumes it's because their marriage has grown cold and distant. He doesn't have any friends because he has withdrawn from society since the shooting. But how in the hell could he think he was doing an awesome job at child psychology without talking to the people in the kid's life?
Because this is key information he's missing here -- did he not think Cole's mother might have something to say about the clearly visible injuries running up and down her child's arms? This means Crowe is apparently getting his entire case history exclusively from Cole, a kid whom he believes to be delusional. And it's not like a bunch of events conspire to prevent these conversations, either -- he's in the same room as Cole's mother several times, and instead of talking to her, he apparently just ... quietly stares at her.
Words won't tell you half as much about a person as a long, silent stare.
For example, eventually Cole gets hospitalized, and when the doctors in the ER see all of his cuts and bruises, they suspect Cole's mother might be abusive. They bring a social worker in to ask her some questions. As this is happening, Crowe is sitting right there, visibly disagreeing with what the ER doctor is saying. But rather than sharing his expert opinion and making sure Cole's mother doesn't go to jail, he just sits there. Does Crowe not understand that the mother is the one good thing in Cole's shitty life full of bullies and poltergeists? Why does it never occur to him to do anything but shun her?
"Note to self: I should probably get around to exonerating Cole's mom sometime."
We're kind of siding with the kid who shot him at this point.
Dr. Rosen in A Beautiful Mind Stages a Terrifying Kidnapping
We've written before about how the "based on a true story" film A Beautiful Mind was about as true to the real life of John Nash as Space Jam was to the real life of Michael Jordan. To raise the dramatic stakes, the filmmakers twisted the truth like a balloon animal, and in so doing, they accidentally made the fictional version of John Nash's psychiatrist seem like kind of a sadist.
Halfway through the film, Nash's mental illness has spiraled out of control. His co-workers have seen him carrying around folders of "classified documents" and dropping them off at abandoned houses. He's been talking to himself and anxiously peering out of closed blinds at night. He's the poster boy for paranoia, and he needs serious help.
We're talking, like, Dr. Phil serious.
Fortunately, it's at this point that Nash gets admitted to a hospital by Dr. Rosen, and some emergency treatment starts him on the road to recovery.
But Wait a Minute ...
So how do they go about getting Nash into the hospital?
Concerned about Nash's well-being and sensitive to his extremely fragile emotional and mental state, his doctor devises a professional and well-considered plan: He decides to publicly abduct Nash with the help of three menacing men in dark suits.
"It's reverse psychology! By confirming that all his worst fears are true, it will ... you know ... cure him?"
Nash is visiting a college at the time, and in the middle of giving a guest lecture, Rosen and his menacing entourage of suits barge in from the back of the hall and slowly advance toward Nash. Nash runs away (even someone who isn't paranoid might do the same in that situation), leading his pursuers on a Benny Hill chase around the campus before they ultimately sedate him and drag him into an unmarked black car.
"Wait ... if you were really kidnapping me, you'd put a bag over my head. You guys had me going there for a minute!"
Needless to say, attempting to subdue a paranoid schizophrenic by making it seem like one of his very worst fears is coming true is the psychiatric equivalent of treating a severe burn with a can of hair spray and a lighter. For starters, paranoid schizophrenics are significantly more likely than healthy people to commit suicide. The doctor and his assistants were insanely lucky that Nash didn't get so overwhelmed by the chase that he threw himself out of a window. Next up, paranoid personality treatments are strongly focused on the goal of reducing stress. Let's say that one more time: reducing stress. Not amping it up to 11 with an abduction by the Men in Black.
"Calm down before I shoot you in the face!"
We understand that it was never going to be easy to get Nash into treatment. But they could have given him an intervention in the privacy of his own home, with his wife and friends there. Instead, Rosen opted to nab the man in an unfamiliar place, getting himself punched and embarrassing Nash in front of dozens of colleagues and students. Why exactly did Rosen even want to be a doctor? The thrill of the chase?
Dr. Patel in Silver Linings Playbook Does a Dangerous Experiment for No Reason
Silver Linings Playbook is about a man named Pat (Bradley Cooper) who is suffering from bipolar disorder and his romance with the equally screwed-up Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Guiding Pat through his recovery is his court-ordered psychiatrist, Dr. Patel, who, true to Hollywood doctor tradition, likes to use methods that are a little outside the box.
Early in the film, Pat has just gotten out of a mental hospital and goes to see the psychiatrist. When he gets to the waiting room, he hears Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" playing over the sound system. He frantically searches for where the music is coming from, knocking over some furniture and scaring the living hell out of the other people in the waiting room.
"I can't change it! I've already used my skips for this hour!"
Why would that song freak him out? It was the song that was playing when he discovered that his wife was having an affair, triggering a mental breakdown that prompted him to beat the other man nearly to death. That's when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the court ordered him to stay in a psych ward for eight months. Since then, "My Cherie Amour" has become his personal trigger for anger and anxiety. Sometimes he even hears it when it's not actually playing.
We then find out that Pat's doctor actually arranged for that song to be playing when Pat walked in. Patel explains, "I just wanted to see if it was still a trigger for you."
But Wait a Minute ...
You know what would've been another way to find out if that song was still a trigger for Pat? He could've said, "Hey, Pat, is that one Stevie Wonder song still a trigger for you?" What reason would Pat have to not tell him the truth? At the very least Patel could've waited until Pat got into his office and given him a heads up that he was going to play the song to gauge his reaction.
Instead, Patel turned this into some kind of weird, informal psych experiment. In a profession where establishing trust with your patient is key, he forced Pat to question his grip on reality (since he's had auditory hallucinations of this song in the past) without Pat's consent, in front of strangers. Moreover, Patel subjected his other patients in the waiting room to the volatile reaction that he forced out of an ill, unmedicated, extremely dangerous guy whose previous violent behavior nearly killed a man.
"My patients sign one fuckbeast of a waiver."
Meryl Streep's Doctor in Postcards from the Edge Is a Creep
Most of our readers will know Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from Star Wars, but she also wrote the screenplay for a movie called Postcards from the Edge. Like Star Wars, it includes an unintentionally creepy romance.
Meryl Streep stars in the film as Suzanne Vale, a drug-addicted actress who's barely keeping it together until one night when she takes too many pills and ends up in the ER, getting her stomach pumped. Once she's out of immediate danger, the hospital transfers her to a drug rehab center, where she gets a nice note and a bouquet of flowers ... from the doctor who pumped her stomach, Dr. Frankenthal (Richard Dreyfuss).
"I couldn't help but notice how beautiful your vomit-flecked lips were."
What a nice follow-up gesture! See, this is the kind of human touch we want from our medical professionals.
But Wait a Minute ...
Or, maybe not.
The note Frankenthal sends along with his flowers reads, "Hope your stomach is better. You seem to me to be what my mother warned me about: a beautiful, overly sensitive person."
Ah. So this isn't a "get well" bouquet here.
"By the way, what's the policy on conjugal visits there?"
Now, to some doctors, unabashedly flirting with a former patient like that might breach some ethical boundary, especially when you take into account that the patient in question had just taken a suicidal amount of drugs and is obviously not thinking straight. But to those cynics, Frankenthal would probably say, "... hey, look over there!" before grabbing a couple of bottles of painkillers and racing out of the ER in a stolen wheelchair.
As most of the other men in the movie screw her over, the relationship between Frankenthal and Suzanne is played as the "real" relationship that viewers should hope she turns to after her string of duds. Along those lines, their interactions are portrayed humorously and playfully, as if dating the guy that pumped your stomach was as normal an occurrence as starting a relationship with your cute and playful next-door neighbor.
"Oh, you scamp!"
The doctor's creepiness gets worse, by the way. At the end of the film, Suzanne visits the hospital again, this time to see her mother, who has been in a drunk driving accident. The doctor runs into Suzanne in the hallway and, proving once again that he has no problem hitting on people when they're emotionally vulnerable, asks her on a date. Because when your mother is dying, who wouldn't want to be making plans for dinner? Fortunately, at the movie's conclusion, Suzanne turns him down, but he vows to "wait for her."
"I've got plenty of anorexic girls to prey on until you're ready."
Dr. Lilian Thurman in Donnie Darko Thinks Her Patient Is Homicidal, Leaves a Voice Mail
There are probably a million ways to interpret the sci-fi drama Donnie Darko (two million if you have a bong and a family-sized bag of Cheetos), but only one interpretation should matter to Dr. Lilian Thurman, Donnie's psychiatrist in the movie: Donnie is certifiably insane. Thurman has every reason to believe this.
But he seemed like such a nice young man.
Why is Donnie in therapy in the first place? Well, in the course of the film, he commits several crimes, on the orders of "Frank" -- a giant imaginary bunny. The therapist knows this, and she also knows that Donnie has seen floating liquid spheres shoot out of people's chests. He thinks they have to do with time travel.
Thurman tells Donnie's parents that she thinks he's having "daylight hallucinations." In their last session, under the influence of hypnotherapy, Donnie admits to flooding his school and burning down a house. All of this is further exacerbated by the fact that Donnie is a known sleepwalker. So go ahead and add in the fact that Donnie, an admitted arsonist who feels compelled to follow the orders of an imaginary rabbit, has no control over the impulses of his subconscious mind when he's sleeping.
God only knows what happens if he has the "show up to school naked" dream.
So, good job so far getting all of that information out of him, doctor. Now you can get this dangerous, violent man the treatment he needs in some kind of secure facility.
But Wait a Minute ...
She totally doesn't do that. And in fact, she doesn't bother telling anyone how dangerous Donnie is.
And Richard Kelly couldn't risk giving us an ending we could understand.
See, there is a line where it's totally OK to breach doctor-patient confidentiality, and in fact, when a patient is dangerous, the therapist is required to tell the authorities. But what does she do? Well, after the session where Donnie admits to two different crimes (both of which the cops are currently investigating) and tells her that his imaginary friend Frank is "going to kill," she calls Donnie's house and leaves a message saying it's important that his parents call her back.
That's it. She doesn't say why it's important. She doesn't keep calling back. She doesn't contact his school. She doesn't take into account that Donnie could easily (and very likely would) erase her message if he saw it first. And most damningly, she doesn't alert the authorities. She just leaves a message and hopes for the best.
Besides, if you actually talk to the parents, then you can bill them!
Sure enough, without anyone intervening and with no cops alerted to head over to the Darko residence RIGHT NOW, BECAUSE AN INSANE AND PROBABLY DANGEROUS TEENAGER HAS THREATENED TO KILL SOMEONE, Donnie heads out to a Halloween party with his girlfriend. They leave the party to visit a local "witch" to get some perspective on Donnie's situation, but Donnie's girlfriend gets hit by a car and Donnie shoots the driver. Body count so far: 2.
Thereafter, he finally decides everything's gotten so out of hand that he'll go back in time, let himself be killed, and avoid setting any of this in motion. But of course none of this actually had to happen. Had Thurman called 911 immediately after failing to reach Donnie's parents, everyone would be alive and safe, and Donnie would be receiving therapy and medication in a cozy medical center.
Body count: 0
For more people who need another career, check out 6 'Brilliant' Movie Scientists (Who Suck At Their Job) and 7 Brilliant Movie Lawyers (Who Suck at Their Job).