The plot of the Hulu series The Act seems almost unthinkable. But, as you probably know, it's based on a true story. The dark reality of the seemingly heartwarming relationship between devoted mom Dee Dee Blanchard and her chronically and seriously ill daughter Gypsy Rose was exposed as a case of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MBP), or as it's called now, Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another. Per the Mayo Clinic, the disordered individual "falsely claims that another person has physical or psychological signs or symptoms of illness, or causes injury or disease in another person with the intention of deceiving others." And if you're fascinated by The Act, you may want to check out these 15 movies about Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, which are a surprising mix of horrific and humorous.
Some films include the disorder as a character detail of a side plot. Eddie in It has a lot going on besides his mother's hypochondriacal control over his life, though his asthma inhaler is an omnipresent reminder. The 1994 Lifetime movie A Child's Cry For Help was one of the earliest movies to foreground the disease, though Rolling Stone notes cases of MBP were making the news back in the '60s. Other movies, like the lighter Jake Gyllenhaal rom-com Bubble Boy, add a touch of levity to this otherwise grim subject.
While these movies are entertaining, they're not all particularly realistic. So you'll have to do some research if you want to know more. Spoilers ahead.
'The Sixth Sense'
One of the dead people Cole sees is a young girl (played by Mischa Barton), who directs him to a videotape. Her mother had been feeding her Lysol, and Cole's intervention likely saves her younger sister from the same fate.
Maddy's immune disorder prevents her from interacting with the world, but when she meets the boy next door, she wants to break free. It turns out the disorder was nothing more than her mother's way of controlling her daughter, a twisted way of keeping her "safe."
Calista Flockhart stars in this story of a nurse trying to figure out what evil force is hurting the children in her ward. It turns out there's an urban legend about a ghost named Charlotte haunting and hurting the children. Eventually she uncovers that Charlotte's not a malevolent child, but the nurse who killed her ward by breaking and re-breaking her bones to keep her in the hospital.
'The 9th Life Of Louis Drax'
A sort of proto-The Cell, this film has a hunky doctor delve into the mind of a comatose boy who fell off a cliff and survived... or was he pushed?
'One Missed Call'
Takashi Miike's kitchen-sink J-horror movie features a twist on an MBP case — as explored in this very detailed New Yorker article, false accusations of MBP are becoming increasingly common. And in this film, what seems a case of vengeful ghost and vicious mother is revealed to be something even more malignant.
'Repo! The Genetic Opera'
To say a musical about organ repossession guest-starring Paris Hilton has a lot going on is an understatement, but the father-daughter relationship at the heart of it has his fear of her leaving manifesting in mild poisoning — a way to control and keep her near.
'The Night Listener'
Another curious example — can it be MBP if the proxy might not even exist? Toni Colette plays a highly suspect mother of a young man that Robin Williams' radio show host develops a call-in rapport with. But when he tries to meet the young man thinking he's in trouble, he notices how much the mother's voice resembles the son's...
A case of motherly smothering from the mother's point of view, with Kyra Sedgwick as the mom who only ever wanted to have a relationship with her child. The fact her nickname for him is Loverboy should get the idea across.
Okay, this one is a stretch, but an interesting Psychology Today re-interpretation of the film points out that Coraline's experiences with The Other Mother, combined with her mom's odd gardening (why would you grow an herb that causes paralysis?) might make you take a new look at the already-creepy kids' tale.
This sweet, goofy rom-com about a young man with an autoimmune disease realizing he's in love and racing to stop the girl next door's Niagara Falls wedding... wearing a protective bubble suit... has an MBP reveal that ultimately helps, instead of hurts.
They might have you questioning someone's good intentions the next time they offer to bring you soup when you're sick, but the films that explore this strange disorder will draw you in.