It’s not uncommon for children to develop an imaginary friend. Perhaps you had one, or maybe a sibling did. I don’t remember having one, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t. My sister had one, she named her Sarah and my young mind assumed it was the triceratops from The Land Before Time. Apparently the only Sarah I knew when I was younger was a cartoon dinosaur. Young life is so awesome.
For the most part people grow out of their imaginary friend, or they get help in moving away from them, or they pretend it’s just their way of organizing their thoughts and that it’s absolutely normal. Or they never outgrow this friend and you probably passed them on the street this morning. Ok, not everyone who keeps their imaginary friend becomes a raving lunatic. Some people are fairly functional members of society. I haven’t met any of these people, but supposedly they exist. Whatever the case I am fascinated by the concept of adults with imaginary friends and what that means. Using three great works of cinema, I’m going to delve more into the made up friends of adults.
This is the story of man, Elwood whose best friend is a 6 foot, white, anamorphous rabbit named Harvey. Suddenly my idea about having a triceratops as an imaginary friend doesn’t seem so ridiculous. Aside from some delusion and denial, Elwood displays no ill effects from having an imaginary friend. Elwood is able to lead a mostly normal life. It does take him a bit longer to do things but that’s only because he’s socializing the whole damn time. The same problem would exist if Harvey was a real person, who happened to spend nearly all of his time with Elwood.
One issue with using this movie for a psychological assessment is that it was released in 1950, a time when psychological disorders were not as well known. So as we watch the way people interact with Elwood, they are not fully aware as to what to do. This is not the same way people would react today. In the world of Harvey, people are intrigued and a bit confused. They seek to get answers, but aren’t as forthcoming about. Today, people would simply ignore Elwood’s ramblings to no one, and treat him with baby gloves as society is so sensitive anymore. Either way Elwood doesn’t get the help he needs, but also that can only happen if he’s willing to get the help.
My question here is does it matter if he gets the help? His delusion is not hurting anyone and he seems happy. This is the inner debate I often have about psychological help. It’s really about how we define happiness. If a 6 foot tall rabbit makes you happy, then so be it. In this case, what’s it matter if an adult has an imaginary friend?
Drop Dead Fred
When Lizzie enters a rough patch of her life, her long lost childhood imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred, reappears. Drop Dead Fred is a wacky British imp, and like all imps, he has a passion for mischief. Lizzie is encouraged by Drop Dead Fred to seek bits of happiness by engaging in acts not normally done by rational adults. Lizzie, like Elwood, makes it known that she has an imaginary friend in her life. To her Drop Dead Fred is completely really and nothing seems out of the ordinary.
This movie is more contemporary, thus the people react more as we would expect. Additionally, Lizzie’s behavior is much more disruptive than Elwood’s and that plays a role in how people interact with Lizzie. It is more difficult to ignore what Lizzie is doing than what Elwood did. Lizzie is on the next step above just talking to no one.
In this movie, Lizzie’s loved ones encourage her to seek help and get Drop Dead Fred out of her life. Because others are affected by this shit, it is important that she gets help and changes her behavior. Also, Lizzie is truly demonstrating that she is happy. She happens to have small moments of fleeting joy, but it’s not a lasting happiness and that is another sign that she should seek professional help.
The narrator in Fight Club subconsciously creates Tyler Durden, a man who does and says all the things the narrator wishes he could. Tyler Durden completely changes the life of the narrator. Again, to our protagonist the imaginary friend feels as real as anyone else.
What’s interesting and different about this imaginary friend, compared to the last two, is the way he doesn’t alienate the narrator, but actually helps him to be better liked. People are drawn in and embrace this other person rather than put off by the antics. Everyone is positively affected by Tyler Durden.
This imaginary friend is fully the result of schizophrenia. It can be argued that Harvey and Drop Dead Fred are both results of schizophrenia, however they are mild cases and are easily controlled. The narrator’s schizophrenia is more typical, and more dangerous. Schizophrenia often encourages the sufferer to harm others or themselves, and that is exactly what Tyler Durden does throughout the movie. And like many schizophrenics, the culmination of the disease is when the sufferer feels the only way to overcome it is a drastic suicidal method. Which is what the narrator does with a gun in his mouth. He lives, but Tyler Durden is gone, equating the narrator’s act to lobotomies of yesteryear.
Having an imaginary friend as an adult is not typical, and usually it is a sign of other mental problems. Though it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing to have someone to always talk to. It’s important to understand what the role of the imaginary friend is in your life. If he or she is bringing you happiness, then by all means let them stick around. But look deeper and see if there are any other problems going on. Elwood showed signs of loneliness and sought companionship. Lizzie’s life was spinning away from her and she sought some way to understand and justify the chaos in her life. The narrator just has a mental problem.
As long as you have real friends, then I’m all for the imaginary friend. Mine exists as a way to bounce around ideas and organize thoughts. He exists mainly to help me write, and to help me not make an ass of myself. He’s not that great at the second part.
In the end it’s all a question of Hart.
28 Mar 2012 Lee S. Hart