If you read the literature, you’ll find out that Mabel has



Borderline Personality


Histrionic Personality


“I'm sure we could have made a much more successful film if A Woman Under the Influence had depicted Mabel's life as being rougher, more brutal; if it made statements so that people could definitely take sides.”


[list symptoms that support diagnoses]

 Borderline 5/9


            0 Unstable intense relationships

            1 identity disturbance

            2 impulsivity

            3 suicidal/self mutilating

            4 affective instability

            5 emptiness

            6 anger

            7 paranoia/dissociative

(No “Borderline Personality Disorder” in DSM-II (5/68)  in 1969.  “Borderline Psychosis” was a current term, not related to personality disorder.)

But Cassavetes says


Is it difficult to diagnose mabel because this is just a movie without a professional consultant tying everything into a neat package?  Or is this real life?

Husband: works in sewage? (Probably “laborers”)


Charismatic crew chief.


Passive aggressive or anxious (“I want you to call… don’t think [ is having a wonderful time, I don’t want to disturb her, while the kids are lying there bleeding]


(Grand)mom passive…  “turn the wheels!”


“I shouldn’t’ve let ‘em go


BPD 6,4 I  can’t call her; she’ll throw dishes“Mabel’s not crazy.”.. delicate, unusual  cooks, sews, takes care of kids.


“You’re my girl.”


BPD 2,7 (dissociative)“Nick stood me up…

My name is…

“I know…


Big drink

Sings/kisses guy


Upset when he starts dancing/accosts her.


Next morning: “I’m not in the mood for games Nick: Nick Longhetti, Mabel Longhetti” (Last names, as if filmmaker want to make her confusion crystal clear.)

BPD    Dissociation or psychosis?

Shadow punching him… like a language she expects to be understood.


Hallucination: talking to Momma: what do you think of him?  I mean, you can’t like him because he’s not your son… Momma: kids, where are the kids.. Nick..



He brings crew home: She volunteers: did you eat… I’ll fix something.  (Is he trying to prove she is OK?)


At breakfast: “I was here 3 weeks ago… for dinner… Veronica is my wife…” I remember your wife, I don’t remember you.”

Childlike? “What’s your name..”  repetitive.  “I’m Mabel, how are you?”  … preparing herself each time to ask the question… trying to get the right expression.


BPD 7Aren’t you gonna ask where the kids are?  (she’s forgotten)… He is being reassuring( winks) when he reminds her.  How many? “Three… isn’t that right, Nick.”


Nick appears to bask in the glow of sharing his work family and Mabel.


Dance with Billy: That’s enough!”… get your ass down!!!


(Mom calls nick with pain in abdomen: Mabel: dismissive “sign” language.. talks to self…

Nick accedes to Mabel’s dismissive sign by telling Mom to take care of herself, but she won’t.


I love those guys; I love anybody you bring in the house..”  (“I know that”)


“You didn’t do anything wrong.. it was the look on his face.. he doesn’t know you don’t mean anything.  He thinks you mean something.”

“I know you don’t mean it.


“I didn’t do anything wrong?)  [Does she presume Nick’s response to mom is punishment?”  BPD…boundaries

BPD 1 “Tell me what you want me to be… I can be anything!”

Mabel: I don't know what you want.
           How do you want me to be?
Nick: Yourself.
Mabel: You mean funny or sad or happy or shy, or what?
 BPD 1         Which self?


BPD 7  Vacant look when he kisses her in bed.


Later, Grandma & kids… grandma defensive


“everybody in bed… whistling”


“Are you gonna be alright?  Why do you keep asking me that?  Do you think there’s something wrong with me, like I’m whacko or something?”


Waiting for kids…what time is it.  Seems disoriented.  Do you worry, watching, that something bad is about to happen?


BPD 1 Ask kids how they see her: “You’re smart, your pretty, you’re nervous, too.”


BPD 1Nick calls during party.”It’s working.  I’m a great mother.  I not only love my, kids, I love the Jensen kids… I’m never gonna be mean again… Mr. Jensen.. he was such astiff when he came over… I got him dancing, singing…”hello?”


I’m worried about leaving kids here… you’ve been acting a  little strange.


Nick comes home.. maria naked… slaps Mabel [because Mr.Jensen is in his room]


Nick: I’ll kill you and your kids. (Yelling at Catherine, doctor’s secretary.”] “Mom, just stay there or I’ll kill you.”


Mabel: “You just got embarrassed and you made a jerk of yourself, that’s all.”… “I’m not sore at you.. you hit me… you never did that before…”  I always understood you and you always understood me… that’s how close we are.


Nick: “I don’t know who you are.”


Tells doctor “It’s all over… OK”  doctor comes in anyway.


I calm down…,  I do have anxieties though… "I don't like this woman in my house guarding the staircase. She's guarding the staircase from me. Up above are my children in my home and she is the kiss of death")

BPD7 paranoia

I get the idea that there is some sort of conspiracy.

[sometimes episodes emerge in response to stress.”


He’s going to try to imprison me with what’ in that bag.





Dr.  “Would you get me a drink?”  (She brightens up… feels relieved)


(Contempt by mother-in-law)

“This woman has to go… (Nick: I love you.”)  “My son tells me stories… insecurity.. he says you’re empty inside… your children go hungry… last night you brought a man in the house.. This woman is crazy..


5 points  love, friendship\, comfort … I’m a good mother, nickie… I belong to you


(He claps hands)


She rolls eyes back … take deep breaths…  doctor tries to intervene: “Sit down… I’ll knock you right on your ass.


To doctor You’re sick… sit down


“I don’t want anything… let me stay in my house

(Children give focus to identity)

What about my children; can they go with me?”  They need help, they need care, they need to be protected; I want to protect my children. They’re subject to insanity… get up, go to bed, go to sleep, that’s insanity, isn’t it?!”


[She perhaps functions best when she does not have to respond to conflicting signals/priorities]


Nick.I’d lay down on a railroad track for you; if I made a mistake I’m sorry; now RELAX and come back to me.. RELAX”




“She’s got a screw loose; she needs some time.  Is that what you want to hear, you asshole?”


[How much of response is influence by perceived pressure/shame from community which is uncomfortable about Mabel, doesn’t know what to make of her behavior?  Even though his crew all seems well meaning]


He attacks Mexican-Indian who is being silent; gets angry when he walks away from him.


Kids: “It comes to mind I don’t know my kids; I’m never with ‘em.”

Barks orders to kids: “Nobody gets pneumonia when I’m around.”  (treats them like crew)


Friend: brother… communist… reads too much;  leave the reading to the girls, they like it.




Beer: “Can I have a taste, pop?… not too much.”

“I’m sorry I had to send your mother away.


:29 (pt.2)

Kids in bed in clothes.  If you want to keep me company, you’re welcome.


Mabel’s coming home party.  Victor’s wife –big kiss! (Like Mabel?  “I remember your wife, I don’t remember you.”??)


Eddie’s wife is there: “I love Mabel… you want to know what I think? You’re a shit… it is too much.”


I know it’s wrong; I can’t tell them to go.  You do it Momma…. Do you want me to do it?


Mabel muted, slow upon return.


Mom: “don’t talk about the past, doctor (after he apologizes and justifies.

(Get the impression no one has seen her in the 6 months since she went to the hospital.”

Persistent but timid: “I’ve got to see the children now.”

Maria, come over to me.  Do you want me to? If you want to.  Do you want me to? If you want to.  All right, I’ll just stay her then?


… no emotions now; I really want to be [? Gone??]


Mabel’s dad: I’m just not a spaghetti man! (class conflict?)


Mabel… extended kissing of dad????


Nick: “There’s nothing you can do wrong.  The hell with them; just be yourself.  (noises) … give me a real ‘beh, beh.”


Nick.  Good times from now on.


Mabel: in kitchen; did you see Tina’s ass?!  When I went away it was this big, now it’s this big!” 

“I wish you’d all go home; Nick and I want to go to bed together.”

“How am I doing?

“I really wish you’d go home; Nick and I really do want to go to bed together.  You know, we can’t talk or anything while you’re still here” (Good point!!!)


(Skit with bow) Nick, loudly “That’s the end of the jokes; we’ll just talk.” To Mabel: Normal conversation, how are you, the weather, where you been, how are you,too hot, too cold…

She’s viewed as fragile

I don’t know how to make it, In the hospital, they come in every morning and they give you a shot, and the nurse takes you to the toilet and they take you to work therapy where they teach you to work how to weave things.  And they gave me shock treatments… “ N-“Be yourself.

Mabel to dad, “Will you stand up for me”

Mabel dancing on couch.


Dad… “leave my daughter alone”

(family sent home)


BPD 3 Mable runs off to cut wrists (despair because nothing is changing?)

Kids: running to dad or pushing him away??

“I want me mommy.”  (he takes kids upstairs, they run down  push him back

He slaps Mabel off couch: “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill those son’s of bitchin’ kids.”

he takes kids upstairs, they run down

“they want to know if you’re all right.  They want you to tuck them in bed.”


Are you going to be able to sleep?  “I’m worried about you.”  “Don’t worry about me; I’m a grown up.”


(Freudian; she lies with”banana”; he kisses her; then shakes fist menacingly at dad.”


“You know, I’m really nuts!” I don’t even know how this whole thing got started!”  (Don’t worry about it.)

(dissociation; minimizing)

puts a band aid on it.

Do you love me?  I…


Gotta get some food in this house




Ray Carney

A Woman Under the Influence is a celebration of what makes us different from one another – different in every way: physically, imaginatively, socially, sexually. Nick's orders-from-headquarters style of interaction is entirely different from Mabel's ballerina-like delicacy and vulnerability, and both are different from everyone else in the movie.

The secret of Cassavetes' method is to deny viewers every form of intellectual distance and control. The experiences he presents can't be held intellectually at arm's length. They won't be simplified by being translated into received ideas or push-button emotions. They resist being formulated. They must be challengingly negotiated moment by moment the way we live and feel things in real life.


He and his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) have three children. Mabel is unusual, perhaps mentally ill, maybe with a bipolar or borderline disorder, but diagnosis is not really the point. She is warm, spontaneous, beautiful, and an affectionate if inconsistent mother. Because Mabel is so eccentric and unpredictable, the Longhetti family seems to function at a kind of delicate equilibrium.

, Mabel is unchanged. It also becomes more evident than ever that her "madness" is rooted as much in the family's social network, her uncomprehending parents, judgmental mother-in-law, and volatile husband, as it is in her own brain or personality.




Manic Episode

A.     A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood, lasting at last 1 week…

B.     During the period of time to disturbance, three or more of the following symptoms have persisted (4 if the mood is only irritable) and have been present a significant degree


1)      inflated self esteem or grandiosity

2)       decreased need for sleep   e.g.  Feels rested after only three hours of sleep

3)       more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking

4)       flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing

5)       distractibility i.e..  attention too easily drawn from unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli

6)       increase in goal directed activity (either socially at work or school or sexually) or psychomotor agitation

7)       excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g.  engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions or foolish business investments.


Depressive Episode


ldepressed mood of most of the day,  nearly every day, …

 lmarkedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day …

 lloss when not to dieting or weight gained (a change of more then 5 percent of body weight in a month) or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day

l insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day

l psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down

l fatigue or loss of Energy nearly everyday

lfeelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate to guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day not merely self reproach or guilt about being sick

l diminished ability to think or concentrate or in indecisiveness, nearly every day. . .

lRecurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

 The symptoms are not better accounted for by bereavement i.e. after the loss of a loved one, the symptoms persist for longer than two months or are characterized by marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal radiation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation.



Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

witnessed, or was confronted with an event or

events that involved actual or threatened death or

serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity

of self or others;   the person's response involved                                  

intense fear, helplessness, or horror. 

           The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one (or more) of the following ways:

(1)   recurrent and intrusive distressing

recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions.

(2)  recurrent distressing dreams of the event. 

(3)acting or feeling as if the traumatic event

were recurring (includes a sense of reliving  the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including

those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated).

4) intense psychological distress at exposure to

internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

(5)  physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.


Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with

 the trauma and numbing of general

 responsiveness (not present before the trauma),

as indicated by three (or more) of the following:


(1)   efforts to avoid thoughts, feeling, or

conversations associated with the trauma

(2)   efforts to avoid activities, places, or

people that arouse recollections of the trauma

(3)   inability to recall an important aspect

of the trauma

(4)   markedly diminished interest or

participation in significant activities

(5)   feeling of detachment or

estrangement from others

(6)   restricted range of affect (e.g. unable

to have loving feelings)

(7)   sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., does not

expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)


 Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

            (1)  difficulty falling or staying asleep

            (2)  irritability or outbursts of anger

            (3)  difficulty concentrating

            (4)  hypervigilance

(5)    exaggerated startle response




Borderline 5/9


            Unstable intense relationships

            identity disturbance


            suicidal/self mutilating

            affective instability




(No “Borderline Personality Disorder” in DSM-II (5/68)  in 1969.  “Borderline Psychosis” was a current term, not related to personality disorder.)


            Center of attention

            Sexually seductive

            Shifting, shallow emotion

            Use appearance for attention

            Impressionistic speech style

            Theatricality, dramatized emotion


            Overestimates intimacy in relationships



            A 2/5



                        Disorganized speech

                        Disorganized or catatonic behavior

                        Negative (flattening, alogia, avolition)

            B  social/occupational dysfunction





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