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Exploring Psychology in ’50/50′: A Deep Dive

The film ‘50/50’ tells the poignant story of a young man named Adam who is diagnosed with cancer. Throughout the narrative, Adam navigates complex relationships with his best friend Kyle, his girlfriend Rachael, and his therapist Katherine. Initially, Rachael volunteers to care for Adam but soon becomes distant and neglectful, eventually leading to the end of their relationship after Kyle discovers her infidelity. 

In contrast, Kyle remains a steadfast source of support, and Adam begins to form a meaningful connection with Katherine, an inexperienced therapist who helps him through his journey. As Adam undergoes treatment, the unconditional care from Kyle and Katherine plays a crucial role in his emotional well-being. After successfully undergoing surgery and being declared cancer-free, Adam embarks on a romantic relationship with Katherine.

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Image Courtesy: The Guardian

The psychological concept of Terror Management Theory (TMT) is central to understanding the characters’ motivations and behaviours in the film. TMT describes the human instinct for self-preservation, which drives behaviour when confronted with mortality. 

This theory is particularly evident in Adam’s romantic relationships. When Kyle confronts Adam with evidence of Rachael’s infidelity, Rachael breaks down, revealing her feelings of helplessness and despair. Another key scene occurs when Katherine drives Adam to an appointment, and he opens up about the pain of being abandoned by Rachael.

According to Maxfield et al. (2014), Adam’s traumatic cancer diagnosis, combined with his estranged relationships with Rachael and his mother, likely contributed to psychological dysfunction. 

This emotional turmoil leads Adam to become more aggressive and struggle with his anxiety, which in turn affects his self-esteem and interpersonal relationships, creating an existential conflict. Brandão et al. (2015) conclude that emotional regulation in cancer patients is heavily dependent on the strategies and support systems available to them. In ‘50/50’, Adam’s journey highlights the critical importance of emotional support and personal connections in navigating the challenges of a life-threatening illness.

-Sushmita Sarkar

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