The Number 23 is classified as a psychological thriller because it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat trying to figure out what the internal conflict is with the main character, Walter Sparrow. The issue with Walter is that over a period of time, it becomes known that he has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) through his reading of a book. He and the rest of his family do not realize that he has the disorder because he had retrograde amnesia from self-inflicted trauma prior to meeting his wife.
On the surface, Walter seems like an ordinary man who has a nice family, is very much in love with his wife and likes his job with animal control. On his birthday he was running late to meet his wife, Agatha, due to an emergency call from work, where he lost a dog after it had bit him. When Agatha and Walter met, she had already purchased a present for him – a book called “The Number 23”, by Topsy Kretts. The author’s name is a pun on the term “top secrets”.
It was not until he started reading this book that his true nature began to unfold. At first glance the audience could assume that Walter is suffering from paranoia. He stated that everything in the book reminded him of himself and attempted to convince his family that the author of the book wrote the book about him. He saw the dog that escaped again multiple times throughout the movie and began to feel that it was taunting him. This teases that Walter has paranoia. After many attempts of convincing Agatha of the book’s relation to his own life, she told him to just finish the book. She had read herself that the main character in the novel committed a murder and like most spouses was convinced that their spouse would never be capable of such crimes.
Walter continued to read the book and started to see a pattern based on the number 23, and became completely obsessed with this number by applying it to things around him in the world. He tried to decipher what it could mean by writing anyone’s name he came in contact with down on paper. By using the letters in their names he found all the spellings related to numbers until that formula equaled the number 23. He realized that the house he lives in was related to the number 23 when he switched the address backwards. He became so obsessed that he counted Agatha’s shoes and found that she owned 23 pairs.
Many people who are not in the psychology field believe that OCD is simply lining your pantry up perfectly, wanting to have everything in sets, or even having everything in a straight line. OCD can be much more serious than that. OCD patients have repetitive thoughts and behaviors to alleviate stressful or daunting situations (Defining Psychological Disorders). Often these thoughts and behaviors are difficult to resist and can lead to anxiety (Storch et al.).
Most people who have OCD are not diagnosed because it is not detrimental to their lifestyle. In order to be diagnosed, the obsession or compulsions have to be affecting everyday life. An example where OCD can take over your everyday life is if a patient has a fear of getting dirty or even sick to a point where they refuse to shake a person’s hand. They will refuse to shake a person’s hand and if their skin remotely made contact with another person or an unclean object, they will clean their skin until it potentially becomes raw. While the patient knows that this is not normal, they feel that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from this type of behavior (Defining Psychological Disorders).
There are different treatments for OCD patients. Many patients first choose to go through psychological therapy. Psychologists will use a therapy process called exposure and response prevention (ERP). The patient will slowly be subjected to their fear or whatever it is that they are obsessed about over a period of time and successive events, to help them cope with the anxiety of the obsession, since anxiety is a close link to OCD (Defining Psychological Treatments). If ERP does not work for the patient, the therapist will usually refer them to a psychiatrist for a more aggressive approach through medication while continuing the psychotherapy treatment of ERP.
The main medication that is attempted for OCD patients is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, (SSRI) which is an antidepressant. This will be monitored in very low doses. The antidepressant is thought to balance the neurotransmitters in your brain. The SSRI is not supposed to work overnight to “fix” the patient and will take time. It is recommended that you allow at least 4 weeks for any medication to take effect (Pallanti, 2014). A common medication that is used to treat OCD is Anafranil (Psychiatric Disorders, 2015), its generic name is clomipramine hydrochloride which is what Pallanti was referring to the second form of treatment if regular antidepressants did not work for the patient.
It was easy to conclude watching the film from the outside that Walter obviously suffered from OCD because of the obsession he had with the book that Agatha gave him that surrounded the number 23. He moved into a hotel with the intention to keep his family safe, and he rented a room with the room number 23. There he discovered that he has been there before and found scribbles on the wall that were covered up with wallpaper. He ripped off the wall paper and images of his past came flooding back. He recalled jumping off the ledge of the balcony in an attempted suicide after committing a woman’s murder that was mentioned in the book, while a poor man had been sitting in prison for years for a murder that Walter committed.
The film does not reveal until near the end that Walter sustained a major brain injury after writing the book and jumping off the ledge. He was admitted into a psychiatric hospital. The reason he could not remember any of the events is because he suffered through what is known as retrograde amnesia. Amnesia can work either backward or forward depending on the situation. For Walter, since he suffered severe head trauma, the amnesia worked backwards, erasing the past of what he did. Retrograde amnesia is relentless because it hinders the ability to remember the events that occurred just prior to the traumatic incident than it is for the memories that are older. Sometimes those memories are lost forever and never recovered because they were never completely processed through the brain (Remembering and Judging).
Walter was shown proof at the end of the movie that he was the person who wrote the book. The movie’s twist at the end to include retrograde amnesia exposed fully how Walter had OCD the entire time but did not know. OCD did not conflict with his normal life after he had the head trauma until he read the book. These were his most valued secrets and confessions that he wrote down in the form of a novel, which was why the author’s name was a pun about top secrets. Then he realized because he did not have an amnesia block anymore that he murdered a young woman because she never cared for him and toyed with his emotions.
OCD is an anxiety disorder shown with repetitive thoughts and behaviors because of the fears and stresses of everyday life. Walter epitomizes this disorder because of his reactions that he had in his past and present during the storytelling of the movie with his obsession in finding the number 23 in everything around him pertaining to his life. As a patient, Walter has options for treatments since by the end of the movie he recalls everything about his past.
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