He’s the one taking control of the conversations. Everyone in the room has their eyes on him. How does he always have the best stories? And the way he tells them… perfect.
She’s the one with the best jokes. She’s so funny. You’ll laugh and laugh until your side hurts. And she never misses a beat. Oh, no, she’s too smooth for that. Those comebacks are killer.
He’s the one with the best ideas. Every time he walks into the boardroom, it’s like he instantly makes everyone smarter, everyone better. Where does he come up with this stuff? How can he speak like that? I mean, sure, I let everyone know my opinion from time to time, but it’s like he doesn’t even try. It’s almost like he’s showing off.
You know these people. Maybe they’re your friends. Maybe they’re you. What’s important to understand is the way that you met them, the way that you interact with them.
“Sure Bob takes control of the conversations, but have you ever heard him ask what your opinion is? If he’s not talking does he listen to you?”
“Sure Angie has the best jokes, but do you know what her favorite movie is? Do you know anything about her? Really, do you?”
“Sure Tom has the best ideas at work, but at home, he’s no Sherlock. I heard his wife is leaving him because he doesn’t know how to emotionally connect. I heard all they do is fight. I heard all he’s good at is work, work, work…”
We all have specific strengths and weakness that are attributed to our environment. Who we are in one place may be different in another. But what many people are unable to see is that those of us that present ourselves with security are sometimes wandering at the edge of a cliff. If the situation is in our favor we take control of it, but if it’s not, well, you won’t be hearing from us until things are back to normal.
Sometimes our mood is determined by our settings rather than our friends.
I recently watched Catch Me If You Can again. Great film. Spielberg firing on all cylinders. But this last time watching it I was struck with a newfound meaning behind it all. You see, every time I used to watch the film I was envious of Frank Abagnale. He seemed like the smoothest guy in the room, so calm, and able to talk his way out of any situation. It’s hard not to envy a life where you go around the world using fake checks, hanging out with beautiful people, and never working a day in your life.
But this time I saw something different. This was not a brave or smooth person. This was a person with severe social anxiety disorder. This was someone who couldn’t live with anyone else other than his parents. As someone who also has anxiety, I felt like I was watching the movie for first time.
At the beginning of the film, Frank’s father is accepting an award at the Rotary Club. Frank sits forward, hunched; mesmerized by his father’s speech (which he later substitutes as a prayer at a dinner with his girlfriend’s family) and is the first one to stand up and clap when it’s finished. His parents have a good life together, and Frank loves hearing about how they first met in Europe. Instead of watching TV or reading books, he loves to watch them dance and talk highly of each other. Frank’s quality of life is solely dependent on the strength of his parents’ relationship. We don’t really know much about Frank at this point, but for a boy his age, he’s awfully interested in seeing his parents happy together.
Things begin to unravel. We don’t know why, but the IRS is after Frank’s dad and it causes the family to lose their home and move into a smaller apartment. This undoubtedly puts friction on his parents’ marriage, and his mom has an affair. Frank walks in right after it happened, and it immediately impacts him. His perfect family life isn’t so perfect anymore.
Frank’s first day at his new school goes just about as backward as it possibly can. He poses as a substitute teacher and teaches the class for the entire day. The whole month, actually! And right away we start thinking, “This guy is brave! This guy is bold!” But I want you to halt the brakes for a second. There are a few key things happening in this scene that say otherwise.
Before Frank enters the new school his mother asks him why he’s wearing his old school uniform. Frank says, “I’m used to it.” Really what he means is This is what I’m comfortable with. This is all I’ve known. He refuses to wear new clothes because that will mean he has to move on from his old life that he was comfortable in. When Frank asks for help to find his first class a bully knocks down his books. Frank doesn’t say anything back. It’s not a situation he knows how to react to. Then he steps into the classroom and it’s complete chaos. Everyone’s yelling and screaming, and there in the center of it all, is the bully. Literally, everything is stacked against him at this point, so he does the one thing he knows how to do best when things get rough.
He stalls. Really, that’s all does.
He pretends he’s the teacher, thus stalling more bully time thus creating an environment where he’s the master, he’s in charge, and ultimately a place where he doesn’t have to make friends and change. What seems like a bold and gutsy thing to do is actually a tactic used to keep his fear at bay. Because to be blunt, this new school terrifies him!
In the next scene, we see that his parents are getting a divorce. They force him to choose which one of them to live with. “Just pick one,” his mother says, as a strange man gives him a pen to sign away his life. That comfortable place where Frank could hide away and be happy is not only shattered, it’s being split in two. So what does our bold man do in this situation? He literally runs away from home.
We are never shown if Frank has any friends. I suspect he doesn’t have any. His parents were his friends, and Frank will do anything to get them back together. You see, Frank doesn’t begin forging checks and becoming one of the greatest con men of all time because he thinks it’s fun. He does it because, in his own way, he thinks it will bring his family back together. Money will solve their problems, for it was lack of money that broke them apart.
It’s not on accident that Spielberg chose Leonardo Dicaprio to play Frank. Many scenes unfold with Frank using false charm and distraction to woo women into helping him out. When that starts to fail he comes up with a better idea. He becomes an airline pilot, because everyone sees them as gods (nowadays that’s not the case, is it?).
But he doesn’t really become a pilot, does he? He cheats his way into it. He fakes his ID and forges airline checks, and never even touches a control panel. He simply uses that profession and that facade as a way to acquire cash so that he can bring his mom and dad back together. Because then he’ll be comfortable again! He may look like he’s enjoying himself at times, but again, it’s all an act. It’s like a magician who walks off stage and still acts the same. They live their character. You never see who they really are because if you did it would spoil the show. Frank spends all of his time alone learning about ways to detach himself from society, ways in which he can get through life without working or creating new relationships. He never interacts with anyone at the airport, and the occasional girl he spends time with is gone in the next scene. He uses them until the situation becomes more than he can manage. He can’t work a real job because his life would be under someone else’s control. From 9-5 he wouldn’t have a say.
Frank meets up with his dad one day and buys him a brand new car. Nice gift, right? But the reason he buys it isn’t to be nice, it’s so that his dad can show it off to his mom. He thinks it will bring them together. He’s living in a delusional state where his parents rekindled marriage will suddenly right the ship on his life. He forgets about all the illegal things he’s done to get there.
The first time Frank talks to Carl (the FBI agent hot on his tail) on the phone, he pleads for him to leave him alone and forget that he ever was a con artist. To Frank, everything is a game. Carl sees through Frank. He asks him why he called. It’s Christmas day and it seems like a strange time for a wanted felon to call the FBI. “You have no one else to call,” Carl says slyly and begins to laugh.
He’s right. Frank has no one else. His only friends were his parents. He’s a social outcast terrified of living in the real world.
Frank moves on to his next profession: A late night ER doctor. It’s funny that Frank moves in this direction, especially because he’s so afraid of hospitals and the sight of blood that he throws up after he sees a boy with a broken leg. But here he meets Brenda, a young new nurse, and immediately she’s drawn to him. She, like him, is a social outcast. She had an abortion from a previous relationship and her ultra-religious parents have stopped talking to her. Her father is a prominent lawyer, and a devout Lutheran. How is Frank ever going to be accepted by them?
Well, he lies. He lies a lot. His love for Brenda is genuine; however, everything else is not. Brenda’s father asks him why he’s really there. “The truth is I’m not an airline pilot, a doctor, or a lawyer. I’m just a boy who’s in love with your daughter,” he says. It’s one of the few times in the movie where we actually see Frank tell the truth. Too bad Brenda’s father doesn’t realize he’s actually confessing.
There’s a scene at Frank’s apartment where he’s having a huge party. Everyone’s having a ball, so what’s Frank doing? He’s getting worked up about people damaging his furniture. A man spills a drink on his shirt and he flips out. He’s not having any fun! And most importantly, he’s not talking to anyone. At all.
Towards the end of the film, when Frank has spiraled out of control, he moves to the one place where it all began: Montrichard, France. His mother was born there. Every insane choice that Frank has made on his criminal journey was about bringing him back to complacency, bringing his parents back together. When the con got too complex, when he thought that the situation moved out of his control, he made a new con, and then a new one, and then…
Frank’s greatest con was convincing people that he was ok.
At the end of the film, Frank has escaped (once again) and run back home to see his mom. There he sees a young girl, his stepsister, living happily with her father and his mother. The family he has been fighting to get back to this entire time is gone. There’s nothing to fight for anymore.
A lot of people see me as this confident, bold person and perhaps that is true in some situations, but I’m like Frank many times. I worry about the details of the party rather than the guests. I try to steer a situation or setting under my control so I’ll be comfortable. People like me with anxiety hate small rooms. Why? Because we have less space to work with!
Sometimes I freeze up when I get invited to a social gathering. Will I be comfortable? Will I be able to converse with people I don’t know? Recently I was invited to a party bus. The first thing I thought was, “No way, I can’t control that environment. It’s too small. It’s always moving. I need to be in the same place. What if I can’t get out?” These are the constant mind battles a person with anxiety has. Things that should be fun become prisons for our fear. Like Frank, I know what my strengths are and I know how to talk my way out of things, but not everything. I know how to lie to those around me about how I’m feeling.
A 1% catastrophe is a 99% certainty to those with anxiety.
Daniel Tosh has social anxiety disorder. You’d never guess it from his insane show, or the way he makes witty jokes in front of an audience. But have you ever seen a video of him in public? Have you ever seen him talk to strangers? I haven’t. His show is his safe place, and he can be himself there.
I don’t like to spend the night at a friends’ house. I don’t like to travel. I don’t like to be in quiet places with strangers.
I do like to throw parties and host them at my place. I do like to DJ events. I do like to talk to people about movies and politics.
Depending on what side of me you see will determine your impression. I like to be pretty transparent and honest with people, but I sometimes find myself being like Frank, trying to find the easiest way to turn a situation under my control. And if I can’t, well like Frank, I run the hell away.
We all have our opinions about who someone is and who we think they’ll become. We read their Facebook status, scroll through their Instagram photos, and pick apart the texts they send us. But we don’t know as much as we think. We don’t understand a lot of people. We only see a part of them, what they want us to see.
Truth be told, most of us are just getting conned.