I watched a video on YouTube of an analysis of the music and singing in A Nightmare Before Christmas. I love things like that because music is one of my special interests, and learning about it gives me hope that maybe one day I can sing without breaking glass.
The issue I had with it was when the person reviewing the music delved into how horrible he thought Jack was and called the character a sociopath and a narcissist.
As someone who has been in counseling and psychiatry since I was about seven years old, I’ve learned so much about mental health and many of the diagnoses out there. I’ve had people in my life who truly were narcissists, and I dated someone with anti-social personality disorder (which many people just call a sociopath. It’s not the actual name for the disorder) who ruined my life. I should note, though, not everyone with anti-social personality disorder is dangerous or a problem, and the great majority of people with the disorder just live their lives and learn how to do so effectively.
I never put much thought to Jack Skellington other than liking him a lot as a teenager. I think many budding Goth kids and scene (emo) or Goth teenagers in the late 90s and early 2000s worshipped Jack and A Nightmare Before Christmas. It became one of Hot Topic’s regular appearances from figures to special editions of the soundtrack and movie, as well as any other kind of merch you could dream up.
I was one of those Goth teens, but I also grew up with crippling anxiety, agoraphobia, and depression. As an adult in my early 20s, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other conditions, including PTSD and BPD.
Hearing someone explain Jack’s mistakes and traits, which are similar to many with mental illnesses, as something irredeemably bad or horrible hit me in the gut. The reviewer spoke as if Jack deserved nothing and was a person to be avoided.
So, as a writer with many years of experience with mental illnesses, a mini-rant.
I see Jack Skellington as someone with something like bipolar depression and mania. You’re not always aware of what you’re doing in the moment, and emotions can become erratic during mixed episodes as Jack seems to experience. His singing voice is all over the place (although very well done) and he shifts from one mood to the next without skipping a beat, which can also be a symptom of BPD, or borderline personality disorder.
Someone with bipolar disorder or BPD can also make impulse decisions without thinking. During mania, your highs can be great and you don’t realize you’re doing harmful things and you can feel on top of the world — if it’s a feel-good manic episode. You don’t mean to do any harm, but sadly, it happens.
Ultimately, I think Jack is depressed because he’s sick of the same thing over and over, and when something sparked inspiration in him, finally, the high directly after the depression felt euphoric like his life has changed. If you’ve spent any amount of time with bipolar or BPD depression, you can understand why suddenly seeing the light after a period of complete darkness would cause someone to become euphoric.
Some people have grandiose ideas during manic episodes, like wanting to lead a group to change the world because they feel like they can do anything, and this is on the extreme end of the idea. This happened to me once before I was properly diagnosed. In the movie, you can see and feel Jack’s manic energy as he obsesses over Christmas and doesn’t consider how it’s affecting others. He also dismisses Sally quite often, but he’s never mean or rude about it. He’s simply consumed by his grandiose idea of wanting to experience the holiday.
This isn’t to say his actions weren’t wrong. What he did hurt people, many people, including Sally. He was so consumed by his dream that he didn’t realize she loved him and he broke her heart. Despite complimenting her and thinking her brilliant and special enough to make one of the most important aspects of the holiday — Santa’s outfit — he completely ignored her warnings and didn’t bother to consider what she had to say like a good friend would.
Jack fits all of these symptoms so well it’s almost textbook.
Ultimately, I don’t feel he’s a malicious or bad character. If he was a real person diagnosed with BPD or bipolar disorder, he was just symptomatic and made bad decisions he later realized were wrong when he saw the consequences and the people he hurt (“What have I done?”). He realized life was good the way he had it, and he could be happy with himself as he was.
He also went back to make things right to correct his wrongs. I’ve always believed people deserve second chances if they put their actions where their words are, and Jack did make everything right with a promise to never do it again. He also finally realized how dismissive he was of Sally, and came forward to show her that he truly did care.
Jack isn’t a narcissist or someone with anti-social personality disorder, as he experiences empathy and doesn’t act with arrogance or treat others meanly. He’s simply like an excited child who wants to share his great discovery with everyone, and he wants to get everyone involved.
Another issue that’s forgotten when considering his character: He came from Halloween Town. There are monsters everywhere and they’ve only known one way of life. Their entire existence revolves around scaring people and playing mean pranks. Of course, Sally was the only one with a sense of morality, but she wasn’t born into that environment. She was created for the sole purpose of belonging to a mad scientist, and she was locked in a tower and didn’t experience the world like others had (but that’s a whole other discussion).
People screw up, but it’s those who right their wrongs and learn from their mistakes that are important. And considering Jack came from a place filled with awful creatures, the fact that he was able to find some moral ground while not having a good example of it is really admirable.
I feel that to call Jack ‘all bad’ is to ignore the finer details of his actions and his motives. Of course, there are a lot of other things I haven’t covered that would take a longer analysis, like Jack’s feelings of being misunderstood and his status of being a loner despite being highly respected and loved (another possible BPD symptom as well as depression).
I enjoy diving deep into my favorite characters’ minds, so if there are any other characters that you think would be interesting for me to analyze, let me know! Likewise, if you totally disagree with my analysis, I welcome discussions.
I’m not a mental health professional but have done a ton of research over the course of my life, as mental health is a personal interest, and I’ve been in treatment for various mental illnesses since I was a child. I cannot give advice or claim that I’m any kind of an expert though, because I am not.
©2021 Shane Blackheart