20 Memorable Movie Sociopaths

Often charming and manipulative. Potentially brutal. Lacking in empathy and a sense of conscience. Crazy as shit house rats. Antisocial personalities, particularly those who are spectacularly violent, offer endless fodder for writers and film-makers.

This is undoubtedly a very broad topic, but it's a bit more challenging for me since I don't watch many films in the action, horror or crime genres. In fact, some of these are from movies I wouldn't have watched were it not for MovieBuff25's influence. ;-)

There will be glaring omissions, simply because I'm not including characters from movies I haven't seen (e.g. A Clockwork Orange, No Country for Old Men). Please add your own selections in the comments section, and I'll add them to the list.

Which are your favorite movies are characters on this list?

Here we go (in chronological order):

1. Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) Strangers on a Train (1951)

His life would be so much better if he could just get rid of Daddy. Then he could live comfortably, on his father's money, which his affectionate and looney Mom. He just needs the right guy to help him pull off the perfect crime.

2. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) -- Psycho (1960)

I may seem like an ordinary guy who still lives with his mommy.
But wait'll you see what I've got in my basement!  

Dubbed by NPR as "a most terrifying mama's boy," this character brought the Oedipal psycho-killer into popular consciousness. Director Alfred Hitchcock took great pains to make sure the now-famous "twist" would not be revealed before his film hit theaters.

3. Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) -- Silence of the Lambs  (1991)

There's nothing like having somebody for dinner, with a side of fava beans and a little Chianti.

4. Maynard (Duane Whitaker) Pulp Fiction (1994)

Ah ... this movie is overflowing with fodder for this list. But I decided to pick just one, so here's the winner. This is one of the most inexplicably sadistic, bat shit crazy characters in the history of movies. Of course. Who else would take on Marcellus Wallace?

"Nobody kills anyone in my store except me and Zed ... (doorbell) That's Zed."

"Forget the briefcase. Bring out The Gimp!"

5. Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) -- Dead Man Walking (1995)

Sister Helen Prejean's faith leads her to work against capital punishment and to believe that every human is ultimately redeemable. I found her commitment to finding the light of God in every person, no matter what he's done, inspiring. The world needs many more people like her. And I would have loved for her to be right. But I think the bottom line in this movie, and in life, is that some people are simply evil and can't be helped.

When I saw this movie, I was working as a counselor with troubled youth. I'd met a few who I believed to have antisocial personality disorder for whom I held little hope. This is a brutal thing to say about a teenager. But sometimes you just know. It's not purely based on diagnostic criteria. You just get a "vibe." There's something missing in their eyes. And you wonder why.-- when most humans come into this world innocent and amply equipped to experience love and empathy -- does this happen?

I experienced all this watching Sean Penn's performance. He had that exact look in his eyes. I actually found the movie so disturbing I had to pause it and leave the room several times.

6. Begby (Robert Carlyle) -- Trainspotting (1996) 

You've got your cold, calculating sociopath, silently planning his next move. And then you got Begby. This guy could go from some semblance of normal to raging, bat shit crazy on the turn of a dime.

7. Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) -- Fargo (1996)

This is one of the most brilliant movies of all time. The criminals in this film range from mean-spirited and stupid to coldly brutal, with Gaear Grimsrud being at the top of the scale. He's basically a hollow shell of a human being, rarely speaking and not hesitating to kill someone in cold blood, even if it's only for the sheer hell of it.

The chemistry between him and his chatty, sidekick Carl (Steve Buscemi) -- who is sleazy but less cold-blooded and has an eye for prostitutes -- is priceless. Gaear is strictly business, as in "Shut the fuck up! Or I'll throw you back in the trunk, you know?" And he sure is handy with a wood chipper.

8. Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) -- Jackie Brown (1997) 

 I have to admit, I love it when Samuel L. Jackson goes ape shit and starts cursing.

"AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes."

9. Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) -- Hard Candy (2005) 

After three weeks of chatting online with a 32-year-old photographer, 14-year-old Hayley Stark meets him in a coffee shop. After some flirtation, he takes her home. This seems like the kind of scenario your mother warned you about -- being picked up online by a sexual predator.

But all is not as it seems. Hayley slips a little something in the guy's drink. He wakes up tied to a chair. Hayley accuses him of being a pedophile, and the torture begins.

Oh, and she's an aspiring medical student and is eager to perform a do-it-yourself castration. I challenge any male to make it through this movie without being doubled over on the floor, cringing. I'm just sayin'.

10. Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) -- Antibodies (Antikörpe) (2005)

I look better in red.
Although this film has been glibly referred to as "the German Silence of the Lambs," it is very different and -- in many ways -- more complex. Child rapist and serial killer Gabriel Engel is arrested in a spectacular police strike. Hoping to close a case in his own jurisdiction, small town cop Michael Martens travels to the big city to interrogate him.

Meanwhile Michael is dealing with the brutality of his father-in-law and disturbing signs of antisocial personality disorder in his own young son. Michael is a very repressed person, his life carefully circumscribed by his work and his strict religious beliefs. His encounter with Gabriel brings Michael in touch with darker parts of his own nature. And -- in true Hannibal Lecter style -- this nut job is damn good at getting into your head.

This is a rich, complex psychological movie and an interesting character study of Michael. It made me think of the Jungian concept of "the shadow" -- we all have a dark side, and the more fiercely it's repressed the larger it looms when it does creep out.

What spoiled the movie for me was the ending ... SPOILER ... I disliked the film's attempt at a dramatic ending, when Michael sets out to kill his own son, who he believes to have committed a rape and murder, and is stopped by proof of his son's innocence which is -- literally -- flown in at the last minute. First of all, I thought the allusion to the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac was laid on WAY too thick. Trust your audience's intelligence, and make those biblical allusions subtle, please. Second, I was sorely disappointed by what had been a complex, interesting movie ending with a deux ex machina. If anyone has seen Antibodies and has an opinion on the film or the ending, I'd love to hear it!

11. Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) -- In Bruges (2008) 

Ralph Fiennes was -- as always -- amazing as a psychotic, unyielding English crime boss. The Sicilians have nothing on this guy! He also happens to be a family man with a wife and three kids who probably wonder why he spends so much time away "on business."

12. Nate (Noah Taylor) -- Red, White & Blue (2010)

Part of the unholy trifecta therapists are told to watch out for, when assessing potential antisocial personality disorder in childhood, is #1 cruelty to animals & #2 setting fires. Guess what this guy did when he was a kid? He set his sister's pet bird on fire. Yup.

As an adult, he finds a niche with the U.S. military -- my guess is that he was trained in doing interrogations. A skill he puts to good use when his life goes down a darker path.

This movie totally freaked me the fuck out. Like the iconic "gimp" scene in Pulp Fiction, I found it incredibly hard to sit through. How much human brutality and evil can a wimp like me be expected to take in one sitting? And it was hard for me to see Noah Taylor in this role after he was so adorable as the tormented young musician David Helfgott in Shine (before he grew up and became Geoffrey Rush). But he is undoubtedly a magnificent actor.

One wouldn't expect a sociopath like Nate to feel genuine love. But humans are often not so clear-cut. And Nate truly does love the young woman with whom he connects -- a person who is arguably as damaged and dangerous as he is. That is an area in which indie British film-maker Simon Rumley really shines -- creating morally ambiguous characters, people we fear or loathe but can't dismiss altogether.

Reader Picks: 

Chris -- 

13. Henry (Michael Rooker) -- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

from IMDB: Henry likes to kill people, in different ways each time. Henry shares an apartment with Otis. When Otis' sister comes to stay, we see both sides of Henry; the "guy-next-door" and the serial killer. Low budget movie, with some graphic murder scenes. Written by Rob Hartill

Myerla --

14. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) -- Blue Velvet (1986)

I'm glad Myerla reminded me of this character, the highlight of what was -- hands down -- the most disturbing movie I saw during my undergraduate years in college. And nobody did ape shit crazy quite like Dennis Hopper.

Blue Velvet starts with Jeffrey, an innocent young man who makes an unpleasant discovery while walking through a cornfield. When you find a severed ear on your way home, you can be pretty sure that isn't a good sign. This is the first breadcrumb on a trail leading him into Frank Booth's dark, vicious world.

15. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

A nurse entrusted with the responsibility of ministering to patients with severe mental illnesses, Nurse Ratched is unwaveringly calm, unbendingly dictatorial, and completely devoid of compassion. Her attack on Billy Bibbit, after he makes a brief foray into independence, was excruciating to watch. And no one will ever forget the brutal revenge exacted against resident troublemaker R.P. McMurphy.

Margaret --

16. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) -- American Psycho (2000)

From IMDB: A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, gratuitous fantasies.

3Guys1Movie --

17. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) -- No Country for Old Men (2007)

From IMDB: In rural Texas, welder and hunter Llewelyn Moss discovers the remains of several drug runners who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. Rather than report the discovery to the police, Moss decides to simply take the two million dollars present for himself. This puts the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh, on his trail as he dispassionately murders nearly every rival, bystander and even employer in his pursuit of his quarry and the money. As Moss desperately attempts to keep one step ahead, the blood from this hunt begins to flow behind him with relentlessly growing intensity as Chigurh closes in. Meanwhile, the laconic Sherrif Ed Tom Bell blithely oversees the investigation even as he struggles to face the sheer enormity of the crimes he is attempting to thwart.

Franz --

18. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) -- The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

from IMDB: The 1950s. Manhattan lavatory attendant, Tom Ripley, borrows a Princeton jacket to play piano at a garden party. When the wealthy father of a recent Princeton grad chats Tom up, Tom pretends to know the son and is soon offered $1,000 to go to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf to return home. In Italy, Tom attaches himself to Dickie and to Marge, Dickie's cultured fiancée, pretending to love jazz and harboring homoerotic hopes as he soaks in luxury. Besides lying, Tom's talents include impressions and forgery, so when the handsome and confident Dickie tires of Tom, dismissing him as a bore, Tom goes to extreme lengths to make Greenleaf's privileges his own.
Paige --

19. The Joker (Heath Ledger) -- The Dark Knight (2008)

From IMDB -- When Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent launch an assault on the mob, they let the clown out of the box, the Joker, bent on turning Gotham on itself and bringing any heroes down to his level. 
 "I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…stranger."

20. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) -- A Clockwork Orange (1971)

From IMDB -- In future Britain, charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem... but not all goes to plan.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.