The Great Escape

“We have in effect put all our rotten eggs in one basket, and we intend to watch this basket carefully.”

Based on true events, The Great Escape chronicles a group of allied prisoners in a POW camp. Known for their multiple attempts at escaping their respective prisons, the Germans decide to keep all the escape artists together. Knowing that they are being watched fails to quash the spirits of the prisoners; instead, they put their combined efforts into escaping and find that there might be strength in numbers.

Claustrophobia: Little Picture
Danny (Charles Bronson) admits that as a little boy, he had a hard time in dark or confined spaces. Since Danny is based on a real guy – but not actually a real guy – it’s safe to diagnose here! Claustrophobia is a fear of confined spaces. Like our friend Maggie in Runaway Bride, Danny has a phobia, which is an anxiety disorder.

While some fears stem from real situations, phobias are by definition irrational. They often arise in situations where there is no danger, but the body and mind of someone with a phobia reacts as though they are in great danger.

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Charles Bronson as “Tunnel King” Danny in “The Great Escape”

Claustrophobia: Big Picture
Danny might be experiencing anxiety at this moment because of the pressure on the escape plan. It is in the final moments of tunneling that the overwhelming desire to “get out” overtakes Danny. Like the effect of the Coronavirus quarantine, Danny is pushed to a breaking point by feeling confined in a bigger sense than just a physical one.

Confinement, or the perception of being confined, takes a toll on human beings. When told that we have to stay in a certain area, are not allowed to do certain menial things, or are limited in our regular routines in some way, we feel suffocated. Quarantine is proving that when the natives get restless, a lot of anxiety comes out and the way everyone handles that anxiety is different from person to person. Perhaps Danny suddenly reveals his claustrophobia to Willie in the final hour of the film because the physical and psychological suffocation he feels are finally at their peak levels.

Light at the End of the…
A person suffering from claustrophobia is sometimes put through a process called exposure therapy. This is a process where, with the help of a mental health professional, the person with the phobia is exposed to situational circumstances that might trigger their phobia. They are exposed in a way that is safe for them to escape if need be, so that they can observe their feelings and behaviors following the trigger.

If psychological claustrophobia – or the perception that someone is trapped in a particular situation – is real, then one could argue that triggering psychological claustrophobia is a similar therapeutic process. By understanding which people, places, or events lead to a person perceiving they are trapped, that person could develop resilience for handling the situation, or develop cognitive reframing skills to look at their situation through a different lens.

In other words, if a person is a prisoner in their own mind, then they are also free in their own mind. The choice is in their head.

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