Every rendition of The Riddler has failed to portray the comic book feel of the character. From Frank Gorshin who portrayed The Riddler in both 1966 and again in 1979 to Jim Carrey and now Corey Michael Smith in Gotham, every rendition went overboard on the theatrics. Those theatrics lead to horrifying clownish versions of a serious character, take Carrey's version for example.
The TV show Gotham has done a horrible job with many characters but has rendered The Riddler well. Nygma is shown as a genius level man who works with the 'good guys' often. Working with the police is a wonderful turn in Nygma's character. What falls short is the relationship between Nygma and Wayne specifically.
To bring The Riddler back to the big screen would be a challenge. A challenge not many would be up for. So far all save the comics have failed to grasp the psychology of The Riddler. The Riddler or more specifically Nygma, is a narcissist to the truest sense of the word. What does it mean for The Riddler to be a narcissist?
Narcissism, not to be confused with egotism, is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or ego-static admiration of one's own abilities. Believe it or not over a third of the Earth's population suffers from Narcissism, that's 2 billion potential Riddlers in the real world. There is an entire check list of how narcissists act and what character traits they possess but lets focus on the traits The Riddler amplifies.
Difficulty with empathy, problems distinguishing self from others, hypersensitivity to insults and eve imagined insults, haughty body language, flattery towards people who admire them but detestation to those who don't, bragging, subtly but persistent, exaggerating own accomplishments, claiming to be an expert at many things, denial of remorse and gratitude, vulnerability to shame rather than guilt, and the inability to view the world through another's perspective. I could list more but that last sentence is way too long already. Out of all of those traits film renditions only focus on some of those resulting in a circus performer who tangles with Batman. One character trait of The Riddler that hasn't been touched on enough is his inability to tell a lie. A bad guy who can't tell a lie must be very versatile in his criminality.
Otto Fenichel and Alexander Abdennur stated that narcissists are known as manipulative in a charming way, entrapping their victims through a façade of understanding into suspending their self-protective behaviour and lowering their personal boundaries. Closely related is the way impostors are able to make people fall in love with them to satisfy their narcissistic needs, without reciprocating in any real sense or returning their feelings. That sums up The Riddler we know and love from the dark and gritty comics. How can we show that on the big screen? Hotchkiss has a checklist of the seven deadly sins of narcissism which are the basis, I feel, to bring The Riddler to life on screen.
2. Magical thinking - see themselves as perfect
3. Arrogance - will degrade someone else to feel better
4. Envy - may use contempt to minimize others
5. Entitlement - expect automatic compliance
6. Exploitation - uses others without regard for feelings or consequences
7. Bad boundaries - others exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all.
Edward Nygma aka The Riddler exibits all of these traits in such high levels they have manifested in a pathological form.
Lost? Some narcissists have a limited or minimal capacity for emotions of all kinds, so show that. Nygma is a cold calculating villain with absolute disregard for the well being of anyone other than himself. Even killing his own family to suit an end wouldn't phase him a bit. Nygma uses his genius intellect to manipulate those around him. Nygma isn't that different from The Joker, with the main difference being that, unlike The Joker, The Riddler cannot tell a lie.
Why is The Riddler so intriguing? Knowing that one of three people are narcissists with the capacity of evil to the scale of The Riddler resonates with many. Knowing that some of your friends and family are narcissists and possibly even you, that strikes a chord. Rest easy though out of those narcissists that comprise your social life which one has never told a lie?
Thanks for reading. Tell me what you thought in the comments below. Who would you like to see next on the big screen?