Growing Old: a Psychological Interpretation of “About Schmidt”
By Alexandra Edwards In About Schimdt, Warren Schmidt is a retired insurance salesman, who at age 66 has no particular plans other than to drive around in the motor home his wife insisted they buy. He’s not altogether bitter, but not happy either, as everything his wife does annoys him, and he disapproves of the man his daughter is about to marry. When his wife suddenly dies, he sets out to postpone the imminent marriage of his daughter to a man he doesn’t like, while coping with discoveries about his late wife and himself in the process.
The final stage of Erikson’s theory is later adulthood (age 60 years and older). The crisis represented by this last life stage is integrity versus despair. Erikson proposes that this stage begins when the individual experiences a sense of mortality. This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. No matter what the cause, this sense of mortality precipitates the final life crisis.
The final life crisis manifests itself as a review of the individual1s life-career as shown in About Schmidt when Warren says “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me? ”. Similar to Warrens life review, individuals review their life-career to determine if it was a success or failure. According to Erikson, this reminiscence or introspection is most productive when experienced with significant others which Warren did not have after his wife passed.
The outcome of this life-career reminiscence can be either positive or negative. Ego integrity is the result of the positive resolution of the final life crisis. Ego integrity is viewed as the key to harmonious personality development; the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom. Erikson defines wisdom as a kind of “informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself”.
Conversely, despair is the result of the negative resolution or lack of resolution of the final life crisis. Warren experiences despair and expresses it saying “Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone. None that I can think of. None at all. ” This negative resolution manifests itself as a fear of death, a sense that life is too short, and depression. Despair is the last dystonic element in Erikson’s theory.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for the findings on the stages of grief which has come to be known as the Kubler-Ross model. Kubler-Ross found that every individual with terminal illness or suffering from significant loss goes through some or all of the stages of grieving and in no particular order. All of these stages are expressed throughout the movie. The first stage is denial, and is shown when Warren shows his true feelings in his letters to a child newly assigned to him due to a donation to the save a child program.
The second stage Anger is shown in seething anger spewing from beneath his facade of resignation. He asks “Why me? ” as the result of frustration stemming from the experience of loss. The third stage Kubler-Ross describes is bargaining. The bargaining stage involves negotiations with a higher power or justifying the need for more time, to fulfill a desire or witness an event. In the movie it shows Warren trying to change the date of his daughter’s wedding, even attempting to change her mind on the man she is planning to marry.
Depression, the forth stage is shown when Warren admits he misses his wife. Depression sets in when there is the first sign of belief that death might be inevitable. The individual may start grieving and may begin to alienate himself from loved ones or the outside world. In the end of the movie you get the feeling of acceptance although it is not directly stated, the fifth and final stage. During this stage Warren experiences some peace and understanding that he has done everything possible. Kubler-Ross’s study on death and dying was ground-breaking for the medical community.
She believed that there are no accidents and even seemingly difficult life circumstances help make a person stronger. Her life’s work offers soothing, reassuring suggestions to lead a better life while coping with the nature of death. With the knowledge of these psychological theories on old age and death and dying I experienced this movie in a whole new light seeing as I had perviously watched it before this assignment. I believe that the movie is a very good portrayal of the end stage of life and what a person goes through when losing a loved one.