The psychopaths seen through the cinema

The psychopaths seen through the cinema

Hollywood psychopaths.

In a previous article on the blog of  Our Psychologist  we discussed the psychopathologies of Hollywood movies. There we talked about schizophrenia (“Psychosis”), autism (“Rain Man”), OCD (“Best Impossible”) and Phobias (“Marnie the thief”).

Actually, he had planned to talk about five psychopathologies and five movies. The fifth was the theme of psychopaths in the movies. The article took too long and the psychopaths, who have given so much play to Hollywood cinema, were left out. Now it’s your turn.

Although when it comes to thinking of a psychopath, we all imagine brutal murderers, the trait that best defines the psychopath is his lack of feelings towards the people around him.

The psychopath has a total absence of empathy. The psychopath is incapable of feeling sorry or remorse. Those feelings are alien to you.

The neurotic suffers and on many occasions makes those around him suffer. The neurotic may suffer from anxiety or depression .

“The psychopath makes others suffer, but they do not suffer at all.”

The psychopath is a violent predator with a total absence of emotions. Their violence is usually planned, forceful, and determined. But this violence is not always evident.

The psychopath can sometimes have a charming demeanor. It can be totally seductive, if it can achieve its ultimate purpose, which is to inflict pain.

The best way to understand the psychopath is by looking at his behavior. On this subject, Hollywood has left us a complete gallery of characters.

Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper is probably one of the psychopaths most often portrayed on the big screen. Although his real name has never been known, his reputation as a killer of prostitutes in the squalid London neighborhoods has become universal.

Jack The Ripper – 1888 (Drawing from “Illustrated London News”)

Although there are many films, which have approached the mythical character who gutted prostitutes in Whitechappel from different perspectives, in this article I do not want to talk about him, but about a small and peculiar little man, who did not hesitate to kill his victims to satisfy his obsessive desire.

One hundred and fifty years before Jack the Ripper spread terror under the London fog, a fictional character was born who was to become, in the author’s own words, over the years

“One of the most abominable characters of his time.”


The German novelist Patrick Süskind published his work “El Perfume” in 1985, which was spectacularly successful. The novel was made into a movie in 2006 and it tells the story of Jean Baptiste Grenouille, who was abandoned at birth among the rubbish of a miserable 18th-century Parisian market.

The crying of the baby saved him from certain death and led him to go through successive homes, which rejected him for being extremely voracious and for lacking body odor.

As he grows up, the young Jean Baptiste discovers his incredible ability to capture smells. He works as an apprentice for Baldini, a famed perfumer in decline, who exploits the young man’s talent to create new perfumes.

Unfortunately, for Jean Baptiste, one day he smells a delicious smell that completely seduces him. Following the trail, he discovers that it comes from a young woman who prepares a plum compote. In his desire to absorb all the aroma that emanates from the girl’s body, he ends up killing her, but at that moment the desire to become the most famous perfumer in the world and achieve the perfect essence has been born in him.

“In her search for that masterful perfume, she leaves a trail of young corpses from which she extracts the essence of her beauty.”

The film portrays with incredible realism, the sordid atmosphere of the 18th century, in the poor neighborhoods of Paris. Actor Ben Whishaw brings the tormented Jean Baptiste to life on the screen with considerable credibility.

Dustin Hoffman plays perfumer Baldini, who tries to take advantage of his apprentice’s incredible nose.

“Perfume” is a disturbing film that leaves no one indifferent and that masterfully describes a psychopath who obsessively seeks the beauty embodied in a perfume.

El Perfume – Jean Baptiste Grenouille

A Clockwork Orange.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a film directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1972. It tells the life of a psychopath, Alex DeLarge, played by Malcolm McDowell.

Alex is the leader of a gang who enjoys extreme violence, sex, and rape. This whole orgy of sadism is adorned with the intense music of Beethoven.

In the film, Alex is betrayed by his companions and is sentenced to spend many years in jail. There he undergoes a rehabilitative treatment to amend his behavior.

They apply the Ludovico experiment, where they force him to keep his eyes open using hooks.  At the same time, he watches movies of extreme violence, while they supply him with drugs that cause him enormous physical discomfort.

The Ludovico experiment is a fictional psychological aversion technique. It is based on the same conditions as Pavlov’s experiments with his now famous dogs.

A Clockwork Orange – Stanley Kubrick (1972).

The novel of the same name: Anthony Burgess (1962)

The “Clockwork Orange” is based on the novel of the same name, by the writer Anthony Burgess (1962). The work is inspired by a real event that the writer lived in 1944.

On his return from a trip, his wife, who was pregnant, was brutally raped. The attackers were US Marines. As a result of the tremendous aggression, she lost the child she carried in her womb.

After the release of the film, they had to cut 30 seconds of highly sexual footage. The film was rated as film “X”. After the censorship, it was re-released with the rating “R” (“Reparo”).

In some scenes in the film, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is used as the soundtrack. The film’s success was such that sales of this symphony skyrocketed around the world.

“In England, the film had to be banned, due to a multitude of acts of violence and crimes. There was a wave of savagery imitating the scenes of the film ”.

On the death of the director in 2000, the film began to be distributed on DVD.

Actor Malcolm McDowell played the role of Alex with great realism. He put so much realism in that he broke several ribs. He nearly died of suffocation in a dive scene.

A rape scene had to be repeated many times. For this reason, the actress who played the role left the set exhausted. She had to be replaced by another woman.

The Godfather.

The movie “The Godfather” was released in 1972 and was the first of the trilogy of the same name. All three were all directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on the novel “The Godfather” by the writer Mario Puzzo.

As soon as it was released, it was a box office success. It is one of the most valued films in world cinema and considered one of the best films of all time, both by the public and by most of the film critics.

The film won three Oscars: Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. She was the winner of five Golden Globes.

The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972).

The story of Don Vito.

The story tells the life of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), head of the powerful Corleone family, one of the five New York families that make up the “Cosa Nostra”.

Don Vito has three sons: Sonny (James Caan), Freddo and Michael (Al Pacino) and a daughter, Connie, as well as a godson, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). The film tells the way of life of the New York mafia, which controls policemen and judges, in order to do their business of gambling, extortion and prostitution.

Don Vito opposes entering the drug business against the opinion of the other families and this leads to a terrible war between gangs, with large numbers of deaths on both sides.

“The film is a stark portrait, of a way of life, where morality is subordinated to the service of the ‘family’ in its broadest sense.”

Although Vito Corleone is a character who lives above the law, he cannot be strictly considered a psychopath.

Don Vito makes his decisions based on the well-being of the family. Feel empathy for those around you. You don’t want your son Michael to get mixed up in your world. He deeply regrets the death of his impetuous son Sonny.

Closer to the classic psychopath could be placed his son Michael. This is evolving, from criticism of parental business to a total acceptance of the position of “Don.” He also plans a cold and calculated revenge on all his enemies.

Frank Sinatra and the “Cosa Nostra”.

As an anecdote, it should be noted that everyone identifies Frank Sinatra with the role of singer Johnny Fontane, who is continually asking favors from his protector, Don Vito.

Although the scene of the horse’s head is fictitious, it is no less true that Frank Sinatra had to be helped at gunpoint to undo a contract, as Michael tells in the film, when narrating how Luca Brasi puts his gun on the head of the producer, making him “an offer he cannot refuse.”

Frank Sinatra was very scandalized by how he was portrayed in the film, but his ties to “Cosa Nostra” were more than evident.

Real facts and characters in The Godfather.

Luca Brasi, Don Corleone’s gunman, is another of the real recognizable characters in the film. His real name was Albert Anastasia. His physical appearance was imposing (just like Luca Brasi). He was known as “His Highness the Executioner” and was a notorious assassin in the service of Lucky Luciano.

He was shot to death while being shaved in a barbershop. Another recognizable character is Hyman Roth, who makes deals with Michael Corleone in the second film. In real life he was Meyer Lansky, the organization’s accountant and one of its brightest brains. He was a close friend of Lucky Luciano.

The man who made Las Vegas a gaming paradise, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, appears in the film as Moe Green, who is shot in the eye while receiving a massage. In reality, he was shot in the eye while reading the press.

The famous christening scene with which the first film ends is inspired by a similar event, “the night of Sicilian vespers”. That day, Lucky Luciano organized a simultaneous massacre across the country, eliminating all his enemies.

The portrait of Don Vito Corleone seems a mixture of the character of the mob boss Carlo Gambino, the voice of Frank Costello, friend of Lucky Luciano and the facial features of another mob boss, Sam Giancana.

The role of Michael Corleone, does not respond to any real resemblance, although some of his actions are reminiscent of events experienced by Lucky Luciano.

The Cape of Fear.

In this 1991 film, Robert de Niro plays a psychopath, Max Cady, who is released from prison ready to take revenge on the lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) whom he considers responsible for his years in prison.

The Cape of Fear – Martin Scorsese (1991).

In the film, the pressure on the lawyer, his wife (Jessica Lange) and his daughter (Juliette Lewis) increases progressively and dramatically until reaching a tragic end. The film, directed by Martin Scorsese, is based on a previous work, “The Cape of Terror” (1962).

It is worth noting the impressive performance of Robert de Niro, who is preparing his revenge. Max strengthens his muscles and fills his body with tattoos. Likewise, he learns laws to avoid jail. Little by little, he brings the lawyer and his family to the brink of a panic attack.

Max is a psychopathic female rapist, who channels his brutality by becoming more cerebral and more cultivated. He becomes a refined psychopath, but tremendously terrifying. For posterity remains the phrase with which he calls the lawyer, who hides in fear:

“Lawyer? Lawyer, come out little mouse….”

The silence of the lambs.

This film catapulted Anthony Hopkins to fame, playing the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a fascinating character, a psychopath who eats his victims, but also a cultured and intelligent man.

The film was released in 1991, and was attended by Jodie Foster. The actress played the role of FBI detective Clarice Starling. The detective tries to stop a serial killer with the help of Dr. Lecter.

Hannibal Lecter is incarcerated for murder and cannibalism. Although the film is about the capture of a serial killer, the best scenes in the film are the conversations between Lecter and Clarice.

In them, the doctor dissects the detective with his wit and intelligence. In return, the detective gets some collaborations from Lecter in the investigation of the case. “Quid pro quo” says Dr. Lecter to Clarice. She tells him about her life, her fears and her dreams. He in return provides her with clues to stop Buffalo Bill, the murderer.

The Silence of the Lambs – Jonathan Demme (1991).

This film won the top five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It is the first horror film to win an Oscar for best picture.

Curiosities of the film.

The first scene of the film, very angry to the protagonist Jodie Foster. In it, Dr. Lecter makes fun of his southern accent, in an improv that was not in the script. It wasn’t Hopkins’s only improvisation. He also invented the noise he made with his lips, pretending to suck brains.

Jodie Foster’s strong southern accent didn’t like the director at all. He wanted to give the role to Michelle Pfeiffer, but she rejected it for being too dark a script.

Today no one can imagine Dr. Hannibal Lecter, without associating him with the face of Anthony Hopkins. Interestingly, before he accepted, the role was rejected by Sean Connery and Daniel Day-Lewis.

In the movie Lecter, as a recluse, should be dressed in orange, but he appears dressed in white. It seems that this was due to the actor’s terror of dentists, which made him adopt the white color of his clothes.

Buffalo Bill: Three real psychopaths in one fictional one.

The serial killer character Buffalo Bill they are trying to catch is a mix of three real psychopaths:

  • Ted Bundy who used his arm in a cast to lock women in his van.
  • Gari Heidnik who had several women locked in a well in his home.
  • Finally, Ed Gein who skinned the corpses of old women that he unearthed.

Jodie Foster prepared the role thoroughly. She trained with an FBI agent for weeks, so she could play the inexperienced agent Clarice.

The butterfly larvae (Acherontia styx or death’s head butterfly) that appear in the throats of Buffalo Bill victims, were a mixture of candies and gummies.

The image of the skull on the body of the larva is inspired by a composition by Philippe Halsman called “In Voluptas Mors”. Salvador Dalí collaborated in this work, forming the skull with the naked bodies of several women.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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