Jim Sheridan’s Movie ‘In America’ (Review Essay)

Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory in Movie

The development of human beings does not only revolve around biological factors but also psychological and social factors (“Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory”, n.d.). The challenges that people face and the intervention measure that they may choose to employ, usually bear resemblance in terms of the people’s biological, psychological and social position (McLaren). That is to say that, for instance, a human, biological disorder could be the main cause of an individual’s disturbing, psychological condition. For example, a person whose forehead has a deformity may leave with discomfort and dire emotional pain, as a result of that. This situation may inhibit the individual to participate effectively in beneficial activities of within their immediate surroundings, ultimately interfering with their social well-being. Using Jim Sheridan’s movie, In America, this paper seeks to investigate how human beings; functioning hinges on biological, psychological and social factors as it is in the Bio-psychosocial-Social Development model, using the individual life experiences of the characters.

It is noteworthy that a critical investigation of a personal issue will always yield multiple factors as causes and diverse implications of psychological, biological and social aspects. For instance, disability may be a cause for one’s poor living conditions since they are not in a position to fend for themselves adequately. Consequently, such individuals would lack social recognition in their society, diminishing their chances of self-esteem. Disability, which is a biological issue, leads to poverty-a social problem. Poverty, ultimately, deprives an individual of human dignity and self-esteem which are psychological conditions to any normal human being. Essentially, the PsychoSocial theory is an approach which posits that psychological, biological and social play a significant role in the normal functioning of humans in the context of illnesses (Halligan & Aylward).

Movie Overview

In the year 1982, a family of Sarah and Johnny Sullivan, together with two daughters-Ariel and Christy, enter the United States of America through Canada. Still feeling the pain of losing their young son Frankie, the bereaved members find their dwelling in unbearable conditions, in the city of New York. They managed to obtain their only shelter, a dilapidated kitchen apartment that accommodates even transvestites, drug addicts and an ascetic Nigerian photographer/artist, Mateo Kuamey (Scott). The desperate situation affecting the family has waned Johnny’s faith, in spite of his position as a devoted catholic faithful. His relationship with the family has deteriorated while they struggle painfully to make ends meet.

In spite of their distress, the pleasure of entering the United States and the unity of the family serves as their motivation to face each day with courage and determination. To hold their cherished moments, Christy uses her valued camcorder. Sarah works in a local ice-cream parlour while Johnny, after numerous auditions, lands the job as a cab driver, in their quest to make a living and support their daughters’ pursuit of education at the Catholic School. The rising temperatures in the area and the diminishing level of their financial ability raise the tension between her and Johnny.  The discovery of Sarah’s pregnancy complicates matters, adding to the already existing emotional strain of the family (Scott,). As they struggle with the life, they get acquainted with Mateo Kuamey who ends up becoming their friend, despite his deteriorated, health condition. The Nigerian photographer/artist has the dreadful AIDS condition. In the end, the death of Mateo and the birth of the baby marks Johnny’s end of his emotions over Frankie’s demise. The movie comes to an end at the baby shower at the Sullivan family’s apartment with the apartment’s tenants as Christy and Ariel look for Mateo in the sky.

Facing Bio-Psycho-Social Challenges

Social problems and psychological problems are prominent, throughout the movie, In America. Among the outstanding social challenges that individuals face include poverty, drug and substance abuse, unemployment and lack of adequate education. As a result of these issues, people have to deal with other challenges, which are direct or indirect outcomes of the former. They include a number of psychological tests, which include emotional strain, tension, anger, intolerance and despair. In addition, there are conditions of the body which may pose serious dangers on the body. Such problems may include normal illnesses, deformities on different body organs and abnormal body formation which appear at childbirth. All these problems are interrelated and require appropriate measures of intervention.

In accordance with the Bio-Psycho-Social Model of health, with a basis on the social cognitive theory, the treatment of diseases needs to consider factors of psychological, biological and social factors (Sarno). Thus, in handling tragic incidents of disease, which may sometimes lead to death, people need to find the individual’s connection with other factors within their immediate environment so that not only one side of the coin receives all the attention while the one gets none. It is crucial to bear in mind the concept of body-mind dualism, which posits that, the two, body and mind, work as interconnected elements (Sarno). That is to say that the body functionality reflects what could be the state of the mind, and functionality of the mind also relies heavily on the state of the body.

Although Mateo had the condition of AIDS, his accelerated death may be a result of multiple factors, as opposed to his supposed killer disease. Although he stayed under medication, the Nigerian man suffered from numerous challenges. When he falls off the stairs, Christy attempts to assist him by resuscitating the feeble man. The other residents who know his positive HIV status warn her away. That is a clear indication of stigma in the society for people living with such conditions. The fact that the man spends sleepless nights is an apparent sign of his psychological torture as a result of that stigma. He has money in the trust fund, but nobody knows about this until after his death, when the Sullivan family discovers that he had paid the medical bills for their newborn baby.

Besides, Sarah struggles with her pregnancy but eventually gives birth to a child, prematurely. That is abnormal, an indication of her ailing body. From the story of her family, it is evident that the Sullivan family has gone through thick and thin for sustenance, in New York. In addition, they entered the new land with the trauma of losing their young son, Frankie. With this in mind, it becomes certain that the cause of her premature childbirth is multi-factorial. First, she physically strained to make a living from working at the local ice cream parlour. Secondly, she lived with tension between him and his husband, Johnny, because of the severing, relationship. She had the responsibility of ensuring a motherly upbringing of her two daughters, Christy and Ariel Sullivan. In addressing her unfortunate circumstance, the Bio-Psycho-Social Development approach would consider all those factors in a way of finding appropriate treatment options for her.

Johnny appears to be a nasty character, from the beginning to the end of the film. His unmistakable problem is of a psychiatric nature. Although his unattractive, social status emanates from the sudden death of his young son at such a tender age, there are other significant factors which can help explain his frustration and anger. He is a father who needs to take good care of his family. He has to find a way of solving his problem of poverty in his family; he has to find a way of paying tuition fees to keep her two daughters in school. However, he lives in New York, poverty-stricken and spends a substantial period searching for jobs unsuccessfully. He never went to a doctor to rediscover himself, eventually. He did so after the death of Mateo and the birth of his child.

The two daughters of Johnny and Sarah Sullivan also face challenges of psychological and social complications in their life, both at home and school. Their home languishes in poverty. This makes their living experience a living misery. Besides, their attendance in school is not a smooth ride because of difficulty for their parents to obtain school fees. Expectedly, their performance cannot be up to the mark because of their emotional discomfort resulting from their impoverished lives. Charity, being the oldest child, seems to have accepted the scircumstances as they are, and always tries to find useful activities to do in order to get rid of the disturbing emotions. She uses her camcorder to capture the events of their experiences for reminiscence. For the two daughters, poverty has had a considerable impact on their social welfare, diminishing their social status and confidence as they strive through school, thereby hampering their academic excellence. The outcome is utmost psychological trauma.

In the movie, In America, it there is veracity of the Bio-Psycho-Social development approach in human functioning. There is no single factor which characterizes the existence of a challenge on a human’s functional capability. It is true that biological, psychological and social factors influence human development. Hence they affect human function in a connected manner. A fundamental observation also reveals that a person’s challenge, whether psychological, biological or social, may have serious influence upon the lives of others.

As a result of Mateo’s HIV status, there is a considerable concern by the whole community. His condition seems to have an impact on the people around him. For instance, there is a fear among many individuals who consider him a risk person to get in contact since he could  infect one with the HIV. This is evident at the time of his falling on the staircase. Christy takes the initiative of resuscitating the ailing man despite the uneasiness and worry among the people around, knowing that he is HIV-positive. On the side of Christy, the man’s condition is a cause for deep concern and empathy, compelling her to risk her own life to offer help. This is a vivid show of psychological challenge that may result from another human’s physical or biological disorder.

On the other hand, when Sarah gives birth prematurely, the baby’s health condition becomes everyone’s concern. The father, Johnny gets down to serious business of finding ways of discharging his responsibilities as a father. Although the issue of bearing the child’s medical expenses causes the family a lot of emotional distress, the situation calms down when they discover that the late Mateo had generously catered for them before his death. That brings peace of mind in the family, resulting to Johnny’s change of emotion for a long time, becoming lively and a social man of the family. He put his past behind. He even managed to land a role in the Chorus Line in Broadways.


Challenges that affect the normal functioning of humans usually bear psychological, biological and social aspects, in their provenance and ultimate impact (McLaren). In America, the experiences of different characters, more so the members of the Sullivan family and Mateo Kuamey, reflect the inevitable interconnection among the psychological, social and biological factors in the functioning of a normal human being (Gatchel & Oordt). This resembles the mind-body dualism concept which supposes that the state of the mind significantly affects the functioning of the body. Similarly, the state of the body at any given moment affects the thoughts and emotions of a human (Sarno). The Sullivan family’s experience brings out the true picture of Bio-Psycho-Social development among humans.

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