The Aviator

Dramatizing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Many popular movies portray abnormal behavior with compelling accuracy, which gives psychology students an amazing and enjoyable opportunity to observe and feel the life and struggles of people with mental disorders.  The Aviator (2004) “tells the incredible story of Howard Hughes, a wealthy American industrialist and film producer who struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder throughout his life” (Oltmanns & Emery, 2012, p. 2).  This movie spotlights peculiar behaviors and dispositions of Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in his roles as an aviator and film maker.  In his business and career, Hughes demonstrated tremendous energy and determination, probably driven by his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) condition.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
There are two pillars of OCD, obsession and compulsion.  Obsessions are persistent thoughts, ideas, impulses, or images that seem to invade a person’s consciousness. Compulsions are repetitive and rigid behaviors or mental acts that people feel they must perform in order to prevent or reduce anxiety.  The disorder of OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder because the obsessions cause intense anxiety, while the compulsions are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety. In addition, anxiety rises if individuals try to resist their obsessions or compulsions. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder feel overrun by recurrent thoughts that cause anxiety or by the need to perform repetitive actions to reduce anxiety (Comer, 2010).  In The Aviator, the confrontation of obsessions and compulsions in Hughes’ mind and behavior are vividly illustrated.


Comer, R. J. (2010). Abnormal psychology (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Oltmanns, T. F. & Emery, R. E. (2012). Abnormal psychology (7th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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