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Erik Erikson is a psychoanalytical theorist that studied the stages of development from a psychosocial perspective. Psychoanalytical theories focus primarily on the unconscious mind and are heavily emotion based. These theorists believe that early childhood shapes and determines how successful an individual will be in the future. Although Erikson believes in the unconscious, he stresses the importance of both early and later experiences throughout development. He believes that motivation is social and reflects a desire to affiliate with others (Santrock, 2018). Erikson’s psychosocial theory consists of eight stages that an individual goes through from infancy through late adulthood. At each stage, the individual is confronted with a crisis that must be resolved to successfully move onto the next stage in his/her life. If these crises are left unresolved, they are not disastrous to the individual’s future. The more successfully an individual is in resolving these crises, the more potential he or she will have for a healthier development overall (Santrock, 2018).
The first stage in Erikson’s theory lasts through infancy, where the infant is confronted with trust versus mistrust. Success in this stage will set the stage for an overall expectation that the world is a pleasant place to live. The second stage spans from one to three years of age, where the individual is confronted with autonomy versus shame and doubt. If the toddler is able to assert his or her independence, he or she will be efficacious in completing autonomy. Whereas, if the individual is frequently punished or oppressed, they will not be successful and gain shame and doubt. The third stage is initiative versus guilt that spans through early childhood from ages three to five. If the child is able to take action when confronted with problems in the world around them, they will successfully master initiative. The fourth stage is industry versus inferiority which lasts from six years old till puberty. If the child is able to master intellectual skills, they will be successful in this stage; rather, if the child is left feeling discouraged, he or she may come out feeling inferior to his or her peers. The fifth stage lasts throughout adolescence, spanning from ages ten to twenty. In this stage, the individual is faced with identity versus identity confusion. If the individual figures out who they are, what they believe in, and where they are going in life, he or she will successfully leave this stage with a sense of identity. The sixth stage spans from the twenties through the thirties and determines if an individual successfully leaves with intimacy through forming healthy relationships or isolation. The seventh stage deals with generativity verses stagnation which spans from the forties through the fifties. At this stage, the individual will successfully help the younger generation and master generativity or be left feeling stagnant. The eighth and final stage spans from sixties onward where the individual is faced with integrity versus despair. If the person feels they have made accomplishments and had a life well spent, he or she will master integrity, versus feeling doubt and regret which leads to a feeling of despair (Santrock, 2018).
This paper will focus primarily on Erikson’s last two stages, generativity and stagnation, and integrity and despair but will also touch upon intimacy versus isolation and identity versus confusion. Erikson’s final stage coincide with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of dying. When an individual in confronted with the end of their life, he or she may go through these five stages; the first being, denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and the final stage, acceptance (Santrock, 2018). A dying individual with unfinished business may first be in denial which is a temporary fix to the reality of the situation. The individual may become angry and difficult to treat which then leads into bargaining, where he or she makes promises if their life is spared. The final two stages are depression, where the individual is dealing with the certainty of death, finally ending in acceptance of his or her fate (Santrock, 2018). The movie The Bucket List, effectively displays both Erikson and Kubler- Ross’ theories.
The Bucket List focuses on two opposite individuals, Edward Cole and Carter Chambers, both faced with the same terminal diagnoses. Edward Cole is an affluent, single, detached from reality, wealthy, hospital owner. Carter Chambers is a married, blue collar mechanic, history buff with three children. Carter is seen at the beginning of the movie working on a car with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, when he receives a phone call from his wife. He asks her what the doctor said and falls silent, dropping the cigarette to the ground. The scene cuts to a courtroom, where Edward is sitting in front of a board, sipping on Kopi Luwak coffee, one of the most expensive coffees in the world. He tells the judge and the board that for financial reasons, his hospitals will all have two beds to a room with absolutely no private rooms allowed. Edward is then seen coughing uncontrollably into a tissue, where he finds the tissue completely covered in blood (Warner, 2008).
Edward is seen being wheeled into a hospital room, acting belligerent and demanding answers. Edward’s personal assistant Matthew has already stopped by to drop off flowers and go over business with him. In the middle of their conversation, Edward quietly asks Matthew why there is another man, Carter, in his room. He demands his own private room and Matthew advises against it reminding him it goes against what he has stood for in his own hospital. The men do not interact much as this point. Edward finds out that he is a candidate for experimental brain surgery. After Edward successfully undergoes surgery, Carter’s wife pays a visit to her husband. The two seem distant and not affectionate but Carter’s wife is a strong, concerned, registered nurse who cares deeply for her husband. After Carter’s wife leaves for the evening, the two men briefly chat about their views on visitors. The next morning, Carter is watching Jeopardy while Edward’s doctor checks in with him post-surgery. Carter asks Edward’s doctor to take a look at his chart when the doctor reveals he is too busy and will pass the message along to the nurse. Carter initiates conversation with Edward revealing he has been in and out of the hospital for the past three months, undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Edward asks him how chemotherapy is before he begins his treatment that morning. That evening, Edward is seen enjoying a lavish dinner and offers some to Carter. Carter respectfully declines and in the next scene, Edward is seen becoming violently ill from his treatment (Warner, 2008).
Edward returns to his bed to find that Carter’s oldest son is visiting. After his son leaves, the two men are seen bonding while discussing their personal lives. Carter tells Edward that he has raised three successful children. He goes on to say that he attended college for two months before finding out his current wife was pregnant with their first born. He left college and turned to the first job that presented itself, regretting not ever finishing college. They talk about how quickly life flies by and how they have unfinished business. The two men form a friendship, playing gin every night. They are then seen walking through the hospital together discussing the five stages of death and which stage they are both in (Warner, 2008).
Carter is seen writing a bucket list of things to do before he dies. Edward asks him what he is doing and Carter is embarrassed to reveal what he is writing. The next morning, both men receive news that they have six months to a year to live. Carter then crumples up his bucket list, facing the reality of his death. Edward finds Carter’s bucket list on the floor, reads it, revises it and tries to persuade him to fulfill everything on the list together. After much pushback, Carter agrees to go away for a while with Edward, leaving his wife and family behind to obtain a feeling of fulfillment before they kick the bucket. Edward has an abundance of money allowing the men to cross off almost everything on the list. They are seen skydiving, getting tattoos, racing their dream cars and visiting cities like Paris, the South African safari, and Cairo, Egypt to witness the pyramids. While visiting these places, the two men discuss their views on faith or lack thereof, troubles with marriage and family, such as Carter only being with one woman for his entire life and falling out of love, both wanting to be cremated, and if they have led a life full of joy that also brings joy to others. Edward confesses to Carter that he has an estranged daughter from one of his four failed marriages (Warner, 2008).
The men make a stop in China where they try to hike Mt. Everest in Nepal but are unable, due to inclement weather. They make their last and final stop in Hong Kong, where Edward sends a woman to proposition Carter. Carter respectfully declines and expresses to Edward that he is ready to go home to his wife. They fly back to America where Carter unsuccessfully tries to have Edward reconcile with his estranged daughter. The two men angrily go their separate ways. As time passes, Edward is depicted as lonely and depressed and Carter is portrayed as having a newfound appreciation for his wife and the life he has built. Carter and his wife are about to consummate their marriage for the first time in years, when his wife finds him passed out on the floor. Edward receives a phone call while sitting in on a hum-drum meeting, and rushes to his dying friend’s bedside (Warner, 2008).
Carter gives Edward a letter that he wrote and asks him to read it after he passes. He asks Edward to finish their bucket list without him. While Carter goes in for brain surgery, Edward is seen reconciling with his daughter and meets his granddaughter for the first time. Carter dies during surgery and Edward reads Carter’s letter which requests that he finds the joy in his own life. Edward is seen giving a eulogy expressing how grateful he is to Carter for helping him find friendship and meaning during his own dying days. The movie ends with Edward’s passing and his assistant Matthew hiking to the top of Mt. Everest by request. He places his boss’ ashes alongside Carter’s and crosses off the final task on the bucket list, to witness something majestic (Warner, 2008).
In the beginning of the movie, both Edward and Carter are faced with Erikson’s eighth stage, integrity versus despair. Both men are diagnosed with a terminal illness and are forced to reflect upon the past. Edward made a great deal of money throughout his life but lacked close interpersonal relationships and was estranged from his only daughter. Edward reflected on his life with doubt and gloom, realizing he had not made a joyful impact on the lives of others that mattered to him. This outlook placed him in Erikson’s stage of despair (Santrock, 2018). Although Carter had a more prosperous and successful family life, he too looked back on his life with a great deal of regret, in respect to socioeconomic status and travel. When faced with Erikson’s last crisis, Carter was destined to leave the world with a feeling of despair (Santrock, 2018). Although the men were strangers in the beginning, the two men were brought together by denial of their illness, resentment and in the end, acceptance, according to the Kubler-Ross stages (Santrock, 2018).
The Bucket List only spans a short time in their lives but in that small period of time, viewers are able to gather more information on the men’s past stages through their reflection period. By the age of eighteen, Carter found a woman he loved, married her and had a family. He then went on to successfully raise three children, helping them lead useful lives. From Erikson’s standpoint, Carter successfully completed stages six and seven, intimacy and generativity, but Carter still reflected on his life with doubt and gloom, not allowing him to obtain integrity (Santrock, 2018). Carter and his wife became pregnant when he was eighteen which placed him in Erikson’s fifth stage of identity versus identity confusion. Carter was a young man who had only been through two months of college before he was forced to grow up, drop out and pursue a career that did not interest him, in order to do what was necessary to raise a family. He said, “young, black, broke, baby on the way, you take the first decent job that comes along” (Warner, 2008). Carter felt like he never was able to pursue what he really wanted to do, making it difficult to claim an identity. According to James Marcia’s four identity statuses, Carter performed identity foreclosure. Carter foreclosed on a commitment to an identity and a vocation, without proper exploration. If an individual is unable to thoroughly explore and find him or herself, a forged commitment may lead to failure over the years. As an outsider looking in, Carter was a success because he had a career and a family but he felt personal turmoil because he was unable to successfully complete Erikson’s fifth stage, which categorized him with identity confusion. The turning point in his life was Erikson’s fifth stage and although it was not detrimental to the next two phases in his life, doubt and regret prevailed in the final stage (Santrock, 2018).
Edward was able to effectively complete Erikson’s fifth stage, finding his identity early on as an entrepreneur and business man. The next two stages of his life were considered more gray areas. Although Edward was married four times, all four marriages failed because he said, “the problem is, I love being single too” (Warner, 2008). Edward’s life would be better defined as isolation because he never stayed married long enough to obtain real intimacy. He revealed to Carter that he has one daughter from his second marriage. Edward and his second wife split, making it difficult to maintain a close relationship with his daughter but the major turning point in their relationship was when he sent a friend to take care of her abusive husband. From that point on, his daughter had no relationship or contact with her father, so Edward was never able to pass on his wisdom or help her lead a useful life. According to Erikson’s sixth stage, Edward feels as though he had done nothing to help his daughter, categorizing him with stagnation (Santrock, 2008). The two previous failed stages placed Edward in the category of despair rather than integrity toward the end of his life.
According to Kubler-Ross, the first stage of dying is denial and isolation. This can be defined as the terminally ill person not accepting that he or she is going to die. The second stage is anger which can be defined as portraying resentment and envy. Bargaining, the third stage, is when the dying individual gains hope that the inevitable can be postponed through promises and deals. The individual then reaches the fourth stage of depression, where the person may withdraw once realizing that their fate is determined. The fifth and final step is one of acceptance, where the dying individual gains a sense of inner peace accepting his or her death (Santrock, 2008). Edward and Carter were both isolated in the beginning of the movie, never interacting with one another. Once the two men bonded over their illness, they found themselves in a state of denial with no real time frame in sight. Once they were both given six months to live, reality sank in and their denial turned into resentment of what they had not accomplished throughout the years. The creation of a “bucket list” and a pact to complete it together, helped the men skip the bargaining and depression stage and place them right into acceptance in the end. “A bucket list reminds a person of the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life. In this situation, the person may prioritize goals that enhance life meaningfulness and the goals they desired but previously had not prioritized the time to do” (Chu, Q., Grühn, D., & Holland, A. M., 2018). By accomplishing life goals and dreams with an individual with a similar fate, a person may transition more easily into acceptance, the final resting stage before death (Santrock, 2018).
Edward and Carter both reflected on their lives with a feeling of doubt and gloom. Although quantifiably, the men had lived many years, both making vastly different accomplishments, they had felt the quality of the life lived was not up to their standards to successfully complete Erikson’s final stage. “One way to greatly impact happiness is to spend on others” (Dozois, D. J. A., 2018). Edward’s wealth was substantial but he had gone years unable to spend it on anyone he cared about. Befriending Carter, a man with so little time and the desire to experience a plethora of things, allowed Edward to find joy and meaning in his own life. Friendship also gave him a purpose to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter and cross off, “kiss the most beautiful girl in the world”, his granddaughter (Warner, 2008). These small but meaningful gestures lead Edward to successfully complete Erikson’s eighth stage and die with integrity. “In particular, self-enhancing humor correlates positively with well-being variables such as self-esteem, optimism, positive affect, and cheerfulness and negatively with depression, anxiety, rumination, perceived stress, and neuroticism” (Dozois, D. J. A., 2018). Carter found a man that allowed him to see the world from a different perspective and lighten up the reality of death and dying through humor. Before Carter dies, the final thing he is able to cross off the bucket list is to, “laugh until I cry” (Warner, 2008). He explains to Edward that their friendship has allowed him to accomplish the things he had missed out on in life while reminding him to appreciate what he has accomplished. Carter died with a positive outlook on his life and acceptance of his illness, allowing him to effectively complete Erikson’s final stage with integrity (Santrock, 2018).
Illness and dying is a difficult topic of discussion, especially dealing with one’s own fate. If a person is able to look back on his or her life with positivity and the feeling of a life well spent, accomplishing integrity and acceptance is a much easier task. In the end, it is not the years we have lived, but the life in our years.
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