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Child Development

The USDish Stephen King Challenge: Dreamcatcher

Viewing Stephen King's Dreamcatcher through a psychiatrist's lens.

This month, faculty and medical students at my university have participated in a challenge proposed by to watch 13 Stephen King films in 13 knights nights. We readily accepted the challenge; posting Pet Sematary on Views through the Psychiatrist’s Lens at the start of the project and finishing with a Halloween showing of Dreamcatcher (2003). This post is on the final installment. You can read all 13 posts here.


Dreamcatcher (2003) is a sci-fi horror film based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. The film follows four friends on an annual hunting trip who acquire telepathic powers (called “the line”) after saving a developmentally delayed boy named “Duddits.”

[Spoiler alert] An adult Duddits, who is dying from leukemia, confronts the sinister Mr. Gray who is revealed to be an alien aimed to assimilate the human race. In the spirit of “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (1), the two struggle as Duddits reveals himself to also be an alien of a different race. The ultimate battle ends with both aliens exploding in a cloud of dust which briefly resembles a dreamcatcher.

What it has to do with Psychiatry

Duddits is introduced to be developmentally delayed as a child and suffering from leukemia as an adult. A proposed link between his childhood delay and adult malignancy may be a congenital/inherited predisposition to a hematologic malignancy such as leukemia. The risk of developing leukemia is significantly increased in the setting of germline genetic mutations which may be inherited. Of note, we know little of Duddits’s father (and he doesn’t even appear in the credits). Might his father have died from leukemia? One such inherited syndrome (albeit conferring low risk of about 2%) is congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia (CAMT). CAMT may include cerebral and cerebellar hypoplasia and retardation of psychomotor development thus explaining how the character is portrayed as a child.

Is Dreamcatcher then a case study of CAMT? If so, Duddits’s cerebral dysfunction may not only explain his risk for leukemia but may also explain his fixed belief that he is a dying alien: the Cotard syndrome. The syndrome is named for Jules Cotard, a neurologist who first described it in 1880, and involves nihilistic delusions about the patient’s own body such as believing that he is a walking corpse.

Just for fun, if Stephen King thought to combine his multiverse and incorporate two outside characters to join (Beaver) Clarendon and Pete, who should they be? Two interesting picks would be Mike Hanlon (It) and Gordie Lachance (Stand by Me). Not only are these characters from films that share the common theme of 'childhood innocence followed through adulthood' but their initials also form the gene mutation (C-MPL) of congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia: Clarendon, Mike, Pete, Lachance.


The Twilight Zone, episode 64, May 26, 1961.

About the Author
Anthony Tobia, M.D.

Anthony Tobia, M.D., currently holds titles of Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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