Last Updated 13 Mar 2020

Primal Fear – Psychology Connections

Category Fear, Psychology
Essay type Research
Words 1798 (7 pages)
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? Psychology 101 Spring 2010 Midterm Please answer the following questions based on the information contained in the movie and place in the drop box no later than 11:59 p. m. on FRIDAY 03/12/10; The film, Primal Fear is a psychological courtroom crime drama based on William Diehl’s novel of the same name. Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman wrote the movie’s adapted screenplay, which was brought to life by director Gregory Hoblit and released in 1996. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense attorney who volunteers to represent a young boy accused of murder.

Edward Norton plays the character of Aaron Stampler, a teenage alter boy charged with the gruesome murder of Archbishop Richard Rushman; who is portrayed by Stanley Anderson. Assistant District Attorney (and ex-girlfriend of Martin Vail) Janet Venable; played by Laura Linney, is assigned to prosecute Aaron’s murder case. Frances McDormand is cast as Doctor Molly Arrington, the Psychologist who discovers that Aaron suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder and has an alternate personality; a violent sociopath who calls himself Roy.

Supporting performances: Alfre Woodard portrays Miriam Shoat, the Judge who presides over Aaron’s trial proceedings. John Mahoney is cast as John Shaughnessy, Chicago’s District Attorney. The beloved Archbishop of Chicago is brutally murdered in a gruesome manor; viciously stabbed multiple times, with letters and numbers carved into his chest, his fingers chopped off and eyes gouged out. Aaron Stampler is found fleeing the scene of the crime, covered in the Archbishop’s blood. After an extensive chase, the police eventually catch and apprehend Stampler.

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Criminal defense attorney Martin Vail watched the live man hunt on television; seeing an opportunity for publicity, Vail instantaneous met with Aaron and volunteered to represent his case. Vail questioned Aaron about the events that occurred before he was charged with The Archbishop’s murder. Aaron claims that he discovered the mutilated body of the deceased Bishop Rushman while attempting to return a book to Rushman’s library. Aaron also saw saw someone standing over The Archbishop’s body, who then attacked him; the last event he recalls before his memory blacked out.

Nicknamed “The Butcher Boy” by the media, it appears that Aaron is already presumed guilty by the public. Martin Vail immediately starts the preparation of Aaron’s defense by gathering information about Aaron Stampler and Archbishop Rushman; Vail also orders a full psychiatric evaluation of Aaron. Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable is appointed to the prosecution Aaron’s case; on behalf of the state, she charges Stampler with first degree murder and seeks the death penalty as punishment. Janet Venable is not only the prosecuting attorney in Aaron’s trail, but also Martin Vail’s ex-girlfriend.

Upon Vail’s investigation of The Archbishop, he discovers that Rushman invested money on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church which resulted in large losses of money to the city’s most powerful people; Vail also learned of the numerous death threats that were made to The Archbishop. In an attempt to find the exact cause of his black out and memory loss, Psychologist Molly Arrington performs a thorough psychological evaluation of Aaron. She discovers that years of abuse have caused Aaron to develop multiple personality disorder; Roy, Aaron’s alter ego is introduced to the audience.

Martin encounters another of Rushman’s Altar boys, who accuses The Archbishop of sexual abuse and claims that such events can be proved by video recording; this uncovers the sinister truth of Rushman’s demonic secrets. Vail discovers the video in The Archbishop’s home; the tape displays Rushman forcing Aaron, his girlfriend Linda and the other Altar boy to participate in repulsive sexual acts. Vail rushes to the jail cell, confronts Aaron with his discovery, and accuses him of hiding the truth; Vail violently badgers Aaron, attempting to force a confession of guilt.

After continuous harassment from Vail, Aaron snaps, causing his alternate persona “Roy” to surface and fight back against Vail. We learn that “Roy” killed The Archbishop and Aaron is truly insane. Martin Vail cannot change Aaron’s trial plea from “not guilty” to “guilty by reason of mental insanity”, Vail must come up with evidence that will prove Aaron’s innocence. During the trial proceedings, witnesses are questioned and Aaron is cross examined by Martin Vail and Janet Venable. Martin attempts to anger Aaron with the hope that it will trigger the appearance of “Roy”.

After no success, Vail is finished questioning Aaron and Venable begins to ask him about his involvement in The Bishop’s murder. Aaron becomes enraged with Venable’s questions and attitude, he loses control of his anger and “Roy” replaces Aaron while on the witness stand. “Roy” curses at Venable, jumps from his seat and attacks Janet; threatening to break the A. D. A. ’s neck. The court officer’s eventually pry “Roy” from Venable and she is free from harm. “Roy” is handcuffed, taken from the courtroom and locked back into his jail cell.

Judge Shoat pronounces Aaron Stampler medically ill and the trial is declared a mistrial. Martin Vail goes to Aaron’s cell and relays the good news; he will not be convicted of murder or face the death penalty and will instead be placed in a mental health facility. Upon leaving the jail cell, Vail is questioned by Aaron, who wonders if Ms. Venable’s neck is ok, and wants Vail to tell her he’s sorry for trying to harm her. Vail nods, and begins exiting the cell and comes to the realization that since the personality of “Roy” took over Aaron’s psyche while in court, he could not have known about his violent attack on Janet.

Vail realizes that this means Aaron was faking his alternative personas and he tricked everyone into believing his innocence. Vail questions Aaron who admits to the fabrication of his entire act and claims that he murdered Archbishop Rushman in cold blood and got away with it. Martin Vail realizes he helped Aaron get away with murder; however he says nothing and slowly walks from the jail onto the street outside. “Primal Fear’s” main character is criminal defense attorney Martin Vail. Vail is a debonair, self-satisfied, egotistical legal hotshot; he flaunts his accomplishments, arrogance and enjoys seeing his name in the headlines.

When Vail discovers a high profile murder case involving the mutilation of an Archbishop, he races at the opportunity to defend Aaron Stampler, the teenage boy accused of the crime. Vail’s character flaws are instantly presented to the audience, initially portraying a narcissist who’s only invested in defending Aaron for personal gain. After their interactions, Vail is troubled by his belief that Aaron is innocent. Martin Vail is motivated into unselfishness by the purity of Aaron Sampler.

We begin to see the complexity of Martain Vail’s personality, and the multi-dimensions of his character. After indulging in hard liquor at a bar with a reporter, a candid conversation allows the audience to observe an extremely honest and sincere glimpse of the true virtues which motivate Martin Vail. During this vulnerable moment, Vail declares that he truly believes in the notion that all people are innocent until proven guilty, in the basic goodness of people; and he has faith that not all crimes are committed by bad people, some very, very good people do some very bad things.

Judging Martin Vail’s initial actions during the start of the movie would result in a negative opinion Vail; we see him as selfish, cynical and corrupt. However, as Aaron’s story unravels and hidden secrets are revealed, we see Vail’s “multiple personalities”, and he evolves into a person with righteous morals and motives. “Primal Fear” has numerous victims who suffered because of the actions of other characters. The initial victim is Archbishop Rushman who is the victim of Aaron’s murder.

However, another perspective could claim that Aaron was the victim of Bishop Rushman’s sexual abuse. Martin Vail could be seen as a victim of Aaron’s devious performance that tricked Vail and the court into believing in his insanity and innocence. Yet, the initial fame-loving behavior of Martin Vail and the selfish motives which encouraged his eagerness to represent Aaron Stampler was deceitful and Aaron’s best interest were exploited to better benefit Vail; these actions victimize Aaron. Psychology is used in “Primal Fear” in numerous ways.

The movie’s main characters develop with complexity and are multidimensional in their emotions and behaviors. The film’s tagline; "sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real", explains this idea best. Our main characters all have multiple “faces”, and as the plot of Primal Fear develops, each character is faced with discoveries and revelations that change their ideas and alter their moral beliefs. Juxtaposition is literally exploding from every scene of this movie; and psychology can help us understand the motivations behind the characters actions.

Martin Vail is initially a self obsessed, fame seeking, egotistical hotshot lawyer; who only does things that benefit him. As the film develops, events cause Vail to expose the more sincere parts of his motivations; as the outcome of Aaron’s trial looks grim, Vail literally portrays another side of his personality and we see a man who truly believes in the innocence of Aaron. This belief encourages Martin to work for the benefit of Aaron, and not concern himself with gaining any type of self profit.

We see a transformation of Martin Vail as his actions go from selfish to selfless. The beloved and holy Archbishop Rushman is viewed as a savior and hero. When Rushman is found murdered, the media and people of Chicago paint image of Bishop Rushman as divine, righteous and saintly. Once again we discover information that changes our opinion of The Bishop from black to white. After Aaron’s fellow Altar Boy admits that Bishop Rushman had a dark, sinister secret; and he secretly forced Aaron, his girlfriend and him to perform numerous sexual acts on film.

The Archbishop went from being regarded as holy to sexually satanic. The character of Aaron Stampler best portrays the ideas of psychology. Initially appearing weak and innocent, the stuttering Choir Boy illustrates a convincing story that causes the other characters and the audience to believe him. After appearing to have multiple personality disorder; Aaron is taken over by his alternative persona “Roy”, a violent sociopath who admits to murdering Archbishop Rushman. Aaron and Roy are complete opposite in their demeanor, actions and behaviors.

At the end of the film we find that Aaron’s mindset it really that of Roy, and he had faked his entire shuddering and weak alternate personality. Martain Vail discovers this information too, and although he knows Aaron is a cold blood killer, he exits the jail and does not confess Aaron’s trick to anyone. Maybe Vail feels bad for Aaron because he was sexually abused, and he believes that Aaron killed the Archbishop because he terrorized his life; Vail may not think Aaron is an evil person, just a good person who did a very, very bad thing.

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