Character Study: Psychopaths Are(n’t) Always the Same

I love studying the way different authors, filmmakers, and artists represent various kinds of characters, so why not share my conclusions with you? Sharing makes these things much more fun.

Let’s start with psychopaths. There are so many to choose from, but I have two particular ones in mind, and they’re not from books. My two favorite but opposite psychopaths are from films: Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947) and Johnny Depp in Black Mass (2015). You’d never normally relate these two characters, but while they have major differences in their superficial characteristics, they are extremely similar in the core of what makes them psychopaths.

How they’re different:

  • Widmark often laughs his insane, maniacal laugh, even during and after his despicable acts, while Depp is very serious and rarely laughs
  • Widmark never carries a gun so the cops can’t pin anything on him, while Depp is unafraid of being caught with a gun
  • Widmark takes his sweet time getting around to eliminating snitches, while Depp moves quickly to get rid of them

How they’re similar:

  • Neither has any mercy or compassion
  • Both know how to avoid being caught for their many crimes, yet both have spent time in prison
  • Both are masters of vetting potential members of their gangs
  • Both have trusted men on their side but turn immediately on those who show a crack in their loyalty
  • Both enjoy violence and not only don’t shy away from it, but they take great pleasure in threatening and hurting others themselves
  • Neither have respect for women and are just as violent towards them as men

But the most fascinating thing of all is how these actors portray their psychopathic characters. Because the characters’ cores are the same, they are drawing from the same place within themselves to outwardly exhibit their mental state. Just look at these pictures and how similar they are, even with the characters’ superficial differences listed above.

Psychopaths Widmark vs. Depp

What does this say? That psychopaths can have their own individual ways of handling things outwardly, but their inner cores are duplications of each other. You can creatively toy with their methods and the cause of their madness, but there’s only so much deviation you can believably make to their psychology. This may sound limiting, but it’s actually really great because it allows for unique characters at the same time that you already know what they’re made of inside. So their baseline creates certain expectations that are always fulfilled. As you can see from the time periods of these movies (and real psychopaths throughout history), the basic psychology has always been the same, something dependable, although that’s a strange word to use to describe it!

Who are your favorite psychopath characters, whether from fiction or fact? Film or book?


Symbol Sample: All That Heaven Allows

From the title, All That Heaven Allows (1955) sounds a bit soppy, but there’s much more to this than the title suggests. In fact, this movie is loaded with symbolism and social critique from quite a lot of varied angles.

On the surface, here’s what we see: widow Cary has two children getting ready to graduate from college, only coming home occassionally. She’s lonely and has only superficial society friends who talk behind each others’ backs, but that’s the world she and her children know. She’s used to it, although she doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Cue the tall, handsome young landscaper, Ron, who veered off his expected path and is still single at a time when people married young right out of school. He does what he wants, doesn’t care for money, and ignores other people’s judgments of him. He is true to himself, which is a new concept to Cary and everyone else in her circles.

Sounds like a pretty obvious setup, right? Here’s what you need to know: the setup isn’t the point. It’s everything surrounding it that matters.

My favorite symbol in this whole movie – and there are lots of symbols in it – is the TV set. TV is mentioned several times
throughout the movie as a cure for loneliness, something to keep a woman company when she has no husband. It’s supposed to be a solution to the problem of having nothing to do and no one to talk to. I’m not going to give anything away about the movie, but when Cary’s kids decide to move on with their lives and leave her behind, they think a TV is the solution to everything. Now Mom won’t be lonely! With the turn of a switch, she can have all kinds of people in her living room, whether they’re on gameshows or dramas or commercials. Yes, the TV will take the place of the kids AND the dead husband.

In All That Heaven Allows, the TV set is something dead, something without a heartbeat, of course. Ultimately, if you watch and listen closely, you’ll find that it is equated to the superficial society group that also has no feelings and no care for anyone in the world but themselves. Just as a TV cannot take provide the warmth and comfort of human contact, people who care nothing for you can make you feel lonely in a crowded room. Both the TV and the false friendships are shallow and only for entertainment purposes. They are projections of life instead of actually living it. And so a physical object that is at your disposal 24/7 is just the same as humans following cookie cutter molds of what they think they should be, what makes them appear social and higher up on the class scale, but provides no warmth or depth, no love or true affection – no meaning to life. And the fact that Cary’s children are the ones who think a TV set will make up for their departure shows what she has inadvertently raised: more of the very society that shuns Ron, who is the essence of warmth, care, and living life to the fullest.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I recommend it not necessarily for the plot line but for everything surrounding it. I know that for film buffs, this is a major mark of where melodramas started in addition to several film techniques, but true to form my heart lies with the symbolism and metaphors in All That Heaven Allows. Tell me what you find in the film too! I’d love to hear your conclusions.

First Writer’s Vlog!

I’ve always liked the idea of vlogs and I enjoy watching them, even if they have nothing to do with writing. It’s great that we have another medium through which to communicate and share our experiences, ideas, and lives. It feels to me like a relaxed chat that you have the option of taking part in when you feel like it. With that in mind, I’ve made my first vlog and posted it today. It has some writing, some TV series obsession, and some frustration with old technology. I hope you like it!

Black and White Film Micro-Reviews

I have a new endeavor! Just a mini endeavor, but I’m now doing micro-reviews of black and white films on my Pinterest page. Each pin includes the name of the film, year, main cast (usually two to three people), a “star” rating, and the reasons I liked and disliked it – all in something that will take you about 10 seconds to read. Just another way to hone the ol’ writing skills with fitting word choice and only the most important facts. I’m also an absolute old film addict, so this is the most productive outlet for my obsession.

Check it out here.

Hope you enjoy!

Time: Movie Symbolism Explained

I recently watched the Korean movie “Time”, an exploration of the plastic surgery craze in Korea and the damage superficiality does to people and relationships. The movie was excellent and really got across the loneliness and unhappiness an obsession with looks can cause. I recommend this movie as both a drama and a tragedy.

Check out my analysis of the symbolism here:

Have you watched this movie? What did you think? Did you spot other symbolism in it?