It is Possible to Be Better
Filaree – A Flower Remedy for Melvin Udall*

An Archetypal character study by Rosângela Teixeira

*character played by Jack Nicholson in the movie “As Good As It Gets,” Columbia TriStar Pictures

 

picture of a red-stemmed filaree flower

greennature.com/gallery/weeds/filaree.html


Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,  
I should know what God and man is.

Flor, na parede com fendas,
Eu te arranco das fendas,
Seguro-te, aqui, com raiz e tudo, em minha mão,
Pequena flor, mas se pudesse compreender
O que és, com raiz e tudo, e tudo em tudo,
Eu conheceria o que Deus ehomem são

— By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 -1892)

           
According to Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz1, Filaree is the flower essence indicated for people who spend a great part of their time and psychic energy on minor problems and worries. Filaree is indicated when a person needs to make a fundamental change in their perspective by giving appropriate proportions and dimensions to problems of daily life. According to Cláudia Stern², Filaree alleviates excessive preoccupation with daily problems, and must be used for meticulousness, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and tense people who fixate on everything. It is also used for persons who perform compulsive rituals. Filaree could be considered the most adequate flower essence to work with the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Cinema is an excellent therapeutic resource and can have a great transforming power to the extent that it establishes a “dialogue” within our collective unconscious; cinema is full of myths and symbols which are part of humankind’s psyche. Fiction is capable of skillfully showing us the forces and weaknesses of the human soul and the disastrous consequences of an exalted imagination. As it has been said: art mirrors life...
            
Utilizing this power, the movie industry gave us a “face” for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the movie “As Good As It Gets” (1997), directed by James L. Brooks, screenplay by Mark Andrus, with outstanding acting by Jack Nickolson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Shirley Knight, Yeardley Smith, Harold Ramis and the little dog, Verdell. It won three Oscars and three Golden Globe Awards.
            
The movie presents the story of Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson), an extremely successful writer, loved by women for the way he writes about the world of women, but who is averse to all living creatures. Nicholson brings to life an unbearable being who never thinks twice before offending someone, and who also suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD). However, through Nicholson’s artistic talent, this character becomes adorable, and as incredible as it may seem, after all the terrible things he does, he ends up turning into a nicer and funnier character to the public’s eyes. James Brooks thought it was better to give a more comical view of the disorder instead of diving into the huge suffering that these people experience in their lives. This approach becomes clearer as the movie develops, and the viewer enjoys a mixture of ridiculous, tragic, comic and desperate moments, all at the same time. 
           
In ever-hectic New York City, Melvin spends a great part of his day at home writing and living in a world the size of his bedroom. He only goes out to have lunch at the same restaurant, where he takes his own sterilized silverware and where he demands to be served by the same waitress, Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt), whose 9-year-old son has chronic asthma. In addition, he interacts with his neighbor, Simon Bishop (Kinnear), a gay painter who has a little dog (Verdell, great acting).

Centered on these four characters, Markus Andrus’ and James Brooks’ screenplay develops in an involving and funny manner, despite the drama and the sensitive issues that the story portrays: Carol and her child’s disease, the relationship between Simon and his parents, and Melvin’s behavior and his prejudices.

However, the movie “As Good As It Gets” is much more than a well-written screenplay. It wasn’t necessarily a great effort on Nicholson’s part to establish the focus of the movie: Melvin’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which makes the viewer enjoy each one of the details of his obsession.
           
During the first scenes of the movie, the character is presented as someone who is manic and has many obsessions. The classic OCD symptoms are well-characterized and evident throughout the movie, not only in the compulsive aspect, but in the repetitive behavior, cleaning rituals, restrictions, fear of contamination, need for symmetry, organization, exactness, and obsession. He is able to ruminate on the same idea for hours and the need he has to be precise with information or attribution of value, makes him act rudely toward others.
                       
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD, as it is popularly called, is one of the most intriguing, complex and challenging pictures of current psychiatry and psychology. It is characterized by the presence of recurrent obsessions and/or compulsions and it is extremely severe in that it is “time consuming” and causes great suffering for the sick person.

Obsession means thoughts or ideas that invade conscience in a repetitive, persistent and stereotyped way, being followed by rituals or not. They are experienced as intrusive, inappropriate or strange. In an attempt to resist them, the person uses compulsions.

Compulsions may be considered as repetitive behaviors that the person performs with the goal of eliminating her/his thoughts or reducing the anxiety that they provoke. Without any real or direct connection with what they try to avoid, they become by this same reason, clearly excessive. They are popularly known as “manics.”

It is appropriate to point out that OCD is not a rare disorder, because it afflicts 2% to 4% of the world population. Additionally, research shows that there is a low level of recovery: just 30%, which makes the treatment a challenge for mental health professionals, causing demand for a more holistic type of treatment. WHO has placed this disorder among the ten medical conditions of all specialties as the most incapacitating for people. It has a progressive and chronic course, indicating that as time passes, the tendency toward aggravation of the condition increases. Heredity factors in these cases, because there is always more than one person with this disorder in the same family.
                     
People with OCD present with some common personality characteristics, which are: exaggerated sense of responsibility, persisting doubts, excess of zeal, search for unattainable perfection; with all things being unbalanced and hyper-functioning.
                    
In the movie, Melvin recognizes how much his obsessions and/or compulsions are excessive, inappropriate and irrational, when Carol asks him if he is aware of how inconvenient he is. The writer, even without admitting it, knows that his “weird” behavior is a considerable waste of his time, interfering significantly in daily activities, affecting relationships and dramatically altering his quality of life.

Showing Melvin’s psychopathology, the movie clearly illustrates how anxious the writer’s humor is. In actuality, OCD is an Anxiety Disorder, where inability to perform and complete ritual acts ends up causing intense anxiety and anguish to the person. Melvin is typical of such people. In the story, Melvin has two clear anxiety attacks: when he has to give back the dog Verdell, he starts sweating and has difficulty breathing; and, also when he gets to the restaurant and sees his table occupied by someone else. The agitation, irritability and aggressiveness are the result of the impossibility of keeping his ritual of always sitting at that same table.
            
Similar to the positive qualities of the flower essence Filaree, Melvin’s involvement with the other characters in the movie, and especially with Carol, causes him to start looking at the world in a different way, by visualizing the happenings of his daily life on a larger scale and getting rid of the unnecessary details. Near the end of the story, Melvin says to Carol in one of the most beautiful lines in movie history: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Ficheiro:Erodium cicutarium.jpg

Filaree is a not a California native plant, but probably was introduced from Europe in 1700 by Spanish explorers. Its scientific name is Erodium cicutarium, a tiny member of the Geraniaceae family which appreciates the desert, but is not restricted to this environment because it is highly adaptable. The name Filaree refers to the long filament of rigid and strong structure that supports tiny flowers. With five petals that vary from pink to purple, each flower produces five seeds united to a long stem.
                            
It is a more conventional flower³ in appearance than in behavior. It is surprising as we observe the uncommon work of its seeds. As shown in the pictures, the seeds point  to the atmosphere and have an amazing form and sequence: a fascinating ballet around themselves, turning in spirals, driving the seed to the point they consider ideal, a terrain with adequate soil and climatic conditions to germinate them.

Frutas do cicutarium de Erodium

These seeds could be related to the innumerous thoughts that appear in the mind of an obsessive person. But, the Filaree flower shows us the seeds pointed firmly toward the sky, like they are in the picture, indicating focus, attention and a goal for them.

In case the seed lands on leveled ground, this spinning action will push the seed in a longitudinal way. If this does not occur and the seed lands on an obstructed place, Filaree will turn in another spiral, and try to penetrate the ground in the best way. Additionally, this flower shows great concern with temperature, that is, when it drops, the tail inverts the spiral, penetrating the seed more deeply. And, when the tail begins to dry, Filaree knows that it needs to squeeze the seed once more, to lay it in an adequate position for safe germination. The forces of nature and the fabulous projectile of these seeds lead it to plant itself in an obsessive, methodical, systematic way and only to the exact depth. But, all this ritual is performed in search of a great goal: germination happening adequately. Spinning and turning repetitively, time and time again to germinate. Is it magic? I don’t think so! 

here you can see one seed has spiraled around the fruit

Filaree is the positive archetype of people who do their chores with details and perfection. The comparison which I consider the most impressive between Melvin and Filaree, is the repetitions of untiring and obsessive acts that both of them perform.

The flower performs a dramatic ritual even when it throws the seed to germinate, the same way Melvin does as he performs his ritual of washing hands, opening and closing the door, walking by avoiding the lines on the sidewalk, etc. It is as obsessive as Melvin when it searches for the adequate place and position for its seeds to germinate, just as Melvin is obsessive when he goes to the same restaurant, orders the same food and demands being served by the same waitress.    

Filaree is untiring in its multiple spins until it feels safe to deposit its seeds, just as Melvin enjoys a feeling of satisfaction as he repeats his rituals exaggeratedly and exhaustively.

The difference is that in Filaree’s rituals there is no waste of energy, but the wish for fulfillment. The planning and organization of its actions substitute the need for systematic rituals. The repetition of its spins and turns shows the perseverance and firmness in reaching its goals.

Erodium cicutarium - Alfilaria, pin clover - 071222-0253 Erodium cicutarium plant
Habitat Calico Hills second pullout Red Rocks, Nevada;
www.hear.org/starr/... /species/?...erodium+cicutarium (left)
www.missouriplants.com/Pinkalt/Erodium_cicutarium_page.html (right)

Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz objectively describe the drama experienced by OCD patients, when they refer to the Filaree flower essence: “There are times when the soul loses its proper perspective, becoming entirely too enmeshed and overly concerned with the mundane affairs of life. Such a person spends a great deal of time and psychic energy absorbed in small problems and compulsive concerns.

Such persons must marshal their psychic and physical energy for truly productive tasks; otherwise, the larger destiny goes unfulfilled or only partially addressed. They have tremendous inner strength and reserve, which can be of great value when it is properly channeled.”4  (Flower Essence Repertory, page 306.)    

Bibliographical references:

1 and 4 Kaminski, Patrícia e Katz, Richard (Flower Essense Repertory)– Repertório das Essências Florais: um guia abrangente das essências florais norte-americanas e inglesas para o bem estar emocional e espiritual.
Pages 305 e 306

2 Stern, Claudia – Remédios Florais da Califórnia.
Page 77

3 Research from www.kaweahoaks.com/html/filaree.html
www.library.thinkquest.org/2899/currics/fabfilintr.html
Article Filaree by Arthur Lee Jacobson
retirado do site www.arthurleej.com/index.html

Rosângela Teixeira is a clinic psychologist specializing in psychosomatics medicine and has extensive clinical experience with flower essence therapy. She attended the Practitioner Training at Instituto Cosmos in 2005 and other trainings with Rosana Souto in regard to the FES essences and astrology.

Presently, Rosângela is the Teaching and Research Vice-Director of Rioflor – Rio de Janeiro’s flower essence therapist association. She writes a column for their monthly e-magazine – Mulheres Inteligentes (Intelligent Women). Under the coordination of Lizete de Paula, she is also a volunteer at Projeto Gotas de Bençãos (Drops of Blessings Project), a social service program attending to children and teenagers who live in special villages called Aldeias Infantis SOS (SOS Infant Villages). Rosângela also belongs to the board of teachers of Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro – Specialization in Flower Essence Therapy courses. She is now an authorized teacher of the Healingherbs education program in Brazil and recently she taught about her own clinical experience in a workshop about anxiety disorders, panic syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Write to Rosângela


 


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