What would you do if one day you discovered that you were in fact a psychopath? I'm not just talking about waking up and feeling that your brain just isn't working the same as yesterday. I mean discovering that you have the genetic make up of a bona fide psychopath... Because that's exactly what happened to neuroscientist James Fallon.
In 2006 during a series of scientific and clinical studies of murderers and patients with psychopathy and schizophrenia, Fallon was shocked to discover that he held the same brain imaging pattern and genetic make up of a full-blown psychopath. Shocked to say the least, like many psychopaths, Fallon didn't take his diagnosis seriously. Y'see, many psychopaths don't actually view themselves as psychotic - in fact many view their decisions and actions as both normal and justified.
In the world of cinema, we've witnessed many a psychotic character, ranging from deluded ex-soldiers to Clown Princes of Crime. Some have scared us half to death while others have allowed us to eerily empathize with them and their psychosis. Below is a selection of my "favorite" psychopaths from cinema.
8. Mr. Blonde, Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino's sensational neo-noir black comedy debut was both a critical and cultural hit. The movie would serve as the foundation on which Tarantino would build his notoriously violent film empire. One of the characters that helped shape that empire was Vic Vega, a.k.a Mr. Blonde.
On screen for only a small portion of the film, Mr. Blonde still manages to leave a lasting impression on audiences. Chances are, if you've seen Reservoir Dogs then you can never listen to 'Stuck in the Middle with You' again without seeing Vega jive happily towards the police officer he has kidnapped and tortured, before proceeding to cut off the officer's ear. Thankfully, before he can light the officer on fire he is shot and killed. Truly a psychotic character, and the perfect figure to kick this list off.
7. Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now (1979)
The first of two ex-soldiers on the list is played by iconic thespian Marlon Brando. Colonel Kurtz is the physical embodiment of the terrors of war. Turning his back on morality, Kurtz is an omniscient presence throughout the film and a figure that oozes dread and despair, resigning himself to the horror of war. Hanging corpses and decapitated heads are the decorations of his compound. Suffering from a God complex, Kurtz turned rogue in Vietnam following his condemnation by the US army for killing Vietnamese intelligence agents.
Kurtz detaches himself from all judgement, sensing the irony in war. Most scarily of all, Kurtz sees only the world of darkness that he himself has fostered, begging the question: what place does morality have in war?
6. Travis Bickle, Taxi (1976)
The second of our ex-soldiers is equally as terrifying in the form of Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle. A lonely Vietnam war veteran, Bickle suffers from depression and chronic insomnia, leading to him to take a job as a taxi driver on the night shift in Manhattan. Working as a night shift taxi driver causes Bickle to fantasize about killing the pimps and petty criminals that he sees on the desolate streets of Manhattan.
Like many psychopaths, Bickle isn't exactly the smoothest with the ladies. After stalking political campaigner Betsy, their first date ends in him taking her to a porno. Needless to say, Betsy is less than impressed. He later becomes obsessed with saving a 12-year-old prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), ultimately transitioning him into a psychopathic anti-hero.
5. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho (2000)
To the outside world, Patrick Bateman is a high-achieving Wall Street investment banker who abuses cocaine and various other drugs, while enjoying the company of prostitutes. The psychotic element comes in the form of his double life where he perceives himself to be one of the most vicious serial killers ever to live.
As the narrator of the film (and novel), we witness Bateman suffer from numerous hallucinations, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Is he a psychotic serial killer, or just a deranged, mentally ill banker... ?
4. Kevin, Sin City (2005)
Perhaps a surprise entry to some, Kevin has long held an eerie spot amongst my "favorite" on screen psychopaths. A mute, cannibalistic serial killer who preys on Old Town's prostitutes, Kevin is protected by the powerful Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark. Living at the Roark family farm, Kevin uses the basement as a torture chamber, decapitating his victims and mounting their heads as trophies on his wall, akin to a big game hunter.
Even in his dying moments, Kevin still manages to portray psychotic behavior. He watches silently as Marv systematically tortures him, eventually sawing his limbs off and feeding him to his pet wolf - even then, Kevin doesn't break. Not once does he even squirm or break his trademark smile.
3. Jack Torrance, The Shining (1980)
One of the most famous psychopaths to ever grace the screen, Jack Torrance is truly the stuff of nightmares. Accepting a winter caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel, Jack initially shrugs off its murky past. The demonic powers at the hotel soon take hold, and Jack descends into madness, attempting to kill his family.
The ghosts help Jack descend further into a murderous psychosis, sending him on a rampage through the hotel as he attempts to kill his wife and son. Ultimately, this leads him to his death as he stalks his family in the massive maze outside the hotel.
2. Norman Bates, Psycho (1960)
Created by writer Robert Bloch and given notoriety by the king of horror himself Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates is one of the most maniacal characters we've seen in the world of film. Suffering from severe emotional abuse as a child at the hands of his mother, Norma, Norman was taught to hate all women except her. Upon his mother taking a lover, Norman kills them both in a fit of jealousy.
From this, Norman developed dissociative identity disorder, assuming her personality to repress his awareness of her death and the feelings of guilt that came with it. Inheriting her house, Norman keeps her corpse in the basement, dressing up as her to terrorize the residents of his motel.
1. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
No list of psychopaths is truly complete without the Godfather of them all. Intellectual, charismatic and utterly psychotic, Hannibal Lecter is without a doubt the most famous psychopath to be portrayed in cinema. The cannibalistic serial killer becomes fascinated with FBI agent Clarice Starling, helping her with the profile of a killer in exchange for details of her unhappy childhood.
A former psychiatrist, Lecter is a calculated, intelligent killer, channelling his psychotic behavior into the breakdown of the human mind and spirit. He can kill a man with words, as well as violent mutilations. Oh, and he also enjoys eating his victims. Grim stuff altogether from the mind of a murderous genius.
I hope you enjoyed my list of some of the biggest psychopaths to ever grace the big screen. This isn't a list of the best, most violent or scariest psychopaths, but more my personal selection. Comment YOURS below!
Sweet dreams tonight...