So, last night I was tediously flicking through sky movies selection of films when I came across the dramatic true movie: ‘The Five of Me’ (1981).
The film follows the life of Henry Hawksworth (David Birney) and his struggle with a dissociative identity disorder (otherwise known as a multiple personality disorder). The opening scene shows Henry – a 7 year old boy being attacked and threatened with castration by his mentally ill father. We then jump forward to Henry as an adult; however, he is now known as Dana – a hero after saving a fellow soldier’s life during three years of captivity in South Korea. Dana becomes the prevalent personality, but is not the only one. Peter – an emotional child, Phil – a limping war hero, and Johnny – a violent sociopath, constantly getting in trouble with the police all take over Hawksworth for certain periods of time. The film shows Hawksworth spiral out of control, with scenes becoming more and more violent and troublesome – from killing the man he saved in Korea in a car crash, to attempting to kill his pregnant wife, and facing his abusive father.
Personally, I’m intrigued by the complexities of the human mind and this film really delves into a widely misunderstood mental illness known as DID. The most engaging little detail, is that this film is completely true. It was written by Henry Hawksworth as an autobiography and was later adapted into a TV movie. Knowing that somebody actually went through all of the terror and confusion that the character on screen did is a chilling thought – especially as it was based in a time where mental illness still wasn’t understood very well, afterall – there is still so much we don’t understand about DID today, due to it’s sheer rarity and complex nature.
Birney plays the five characters so well, that with each personality you can quite literally see the physical differences. Some are obvious, for example: Phil’s limp and Dana’s bad eye sight (the only personality who needs glasses). But it’s the finer things that really distinguish the personalities – the idiosyncrasies and mannerisms alone manage to convey that the character has changed. The frustrating part of the film is that Dana actually visits dozens of doctors before his illness is finally recognised at the end of the film. The doctors simply say he suffers from temporary amnesia, and that he is an alcoholic – though Dana swears to them that he never remembers picking up a drink. Of course, Dana doesn’t drink, but Johnny does. The important detail is that Dana does not remember the episodes where he is another personality, so when he ends up in a cell or a burning car – he reverts back to Dana and is completely bewildered by how he got there.
Despite all of these episodes and trouble he gets himself into, Dana ends up getting closer with the wife of the buddy he saved in Korea – the man he also killed in a car crash. The two begin to spend a lot of time together, and though he does revert to his more violent personality Johnny in front of her, and even burn her with a cigarette, she can’t help but accept Dana’s proposal for marriage – the proposal was fairly comical, he popped the question in a doctors office, who said romance was dead, eh?
Dana’s life is happy and successful in terms of career and Annie his fiancee, however his father and abuser is released from a mental institute about half way through the film. Bringing up more of the trauma he suffered as a child. As soon as Dana see’s his father he becomes Peter the child, and becomes hysterical. His father is able to go home and becomes an added threat and distress in Dana’s life.
Hawksworth puts his wife (Dee Wallace) through a lot: cheating on her with her best friend, disappearing on their wedding night, and even strangling her whilst she is pregnant. However, they still blame alcoholism – he even attends AA meetings in an attempt to get better. When his wife finally can’t take anymore – I would have hit the road a long time before she did. – she leaves Dana and cuts off contact with him. At this point the sociopath Johnny completely takes over. A blessing in disguise in a way. Johnny is having a delightfully extreme game of chicken and the police involved send him for a mental assessment, where psychiatrist (Mitchell Ryan) works with all of the personalities, and eventually brings out Henry for the first time since he was seven years old. The psychiatrist is slowly bringing Henry to the present day, and controlling the other four personalities. Unfortunately, the end of the film seems quite rushed, like they ran out of time and decided to wrap it up in under 5 seconds. The day of Henry’s trial, he runs into his wife, though has no real recollection of who she is. As they walk into the court room a voice over states that Henry was ruled innocent and now lives at home, happily.
Now, his wife is still in love with Dana, so despite all the trauma and abuse she went through, I can imagine they reunited romantically. As for his relationship with his father who knows? Would you forgive him? Afterall, his father was ill himself, but the abuse he caused to his child was thought to be the trigger of Henry’s DID. Either way, Hawksworth obviously became a success through his autobiography and his recovery brings a lot of hope to the management of DID.
And if I were David Birney, I would have asked for five pay cheques.
If like me, the wonders of the mind intrigue you as well, check out the 1976 film ‘sybil’, it has a similar premise in that the central character has multiple personalities, and it’s a truly captivating story.