One of our favorite movies is “What About Bob?” the 1991 release starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus. It’s 29 years old but never ceases to make us laugh. We have watched it so many times that we know many of the lines by heart. The same fondness for the movie cannot be said of several of our psychologist friends. They despise it. They find nothing funny about it and, in fact, find it demeaning to their profession. Elsie and I don’t. To have a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at yourself is a mark of mental health.
To give you a thumbnail synopsis of the movie, here’s the official write up:
Before going on vacation, self-involved psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) has the misfortune of taking on a new patient: Bob Wiley (Bill Murray). An exemplar of neediness and a compendium of phobias, Bob follows Marvin to his family's country house. Dr. Marvin tries to get him to leave; the trouble is, everyone loves Bob. As his oblivious patient makes himself at home, Dr. Marvin loses his professional composure and, before long, may be ready for the loony bin himself.
Bob endears himself to everyone but Dr. Marvin. Why? Why does everyone but Dr. Marvin love Bob Wiley? Here are some thoughts:
- Bob really cares about others, even his goldfish, Gill. He invests himself in their lives and is genuinely interested. He relates to Dr. Marvin’s son in his fears of diving and death.
- Bob admit his own fears and weaknesses but chooses to step out in faith to tackle them. This is no better illustrated than when he overcomes his fear of sailing to climb aboard the sailboat. Okay, he gets lashed to the mast, but the point is he sailed. He overcomes his fear of elevators by “baby stepping” his way onto the elevator. Okay, he screamed all the way down, but he did it!
- Bob loves Dr. Marvin even though Dr. Marvin wants to kill him. Bob loves his enemies just as the Bible commands! Bob knows that Dr. Marvin can really help him, and he loves him for it. The contrast between their attitudes is brought into stark relief when Dr. Marvin ties Bob up with ropes and plants dynamite on him to blow him up because Bob is “human crazy glue” and won’t go away. This “death therapy” backfires completely.
As Elsie asks, “what are the takeaways?” Here are mine.
- Bob is eccentric and at times annoying but he truly cares about people. He takes the time to listen to them. Do we? Do we see the Bob Wileys, the eccentric often annoying people, around us? My guess is we avoid them because they’re different and they irritate us. We don’t want to take the time to know them. It’s easier to write them off.
- Deep down Bob wants to be part of a family. He’s divorced and has lived life alone with Gill, his goldfish, as his only companion. He wants a family. In fact at one point in the movie when Dr. Marvin loses it and becomes incapacitated, Bob tells Faye, Marvin’s wife, and Lilly, Marvin’s sister, that he’ll step in and be the dad of the family. How much do we value family? How thankful are we to be part of a family?
- Bob has faith in someone outside of himself (e.g. Dr. Marvin). He owns his fears but is not paralyzed by them. As mentioned above, Bob genuinely cares about others, listens to their concerns, and loves them unconditionally. How about you and me? Do we have faith in God to overcome our fears? Do we genuinely listen to the cares and concerns of others and love them without strings?
As Bob would say, “I need! I need! I’m doing the work!”