Accurate Depictions of a Psychopath


Just when you think you’ve seen it all, and learned all there is to learn, a study such as this one by Leistedt and Linkowski pops up. I don’t think I would be the first to state my surprise when I discovered that there is an actual study about the most realistic psychopaths in cinema – however, this doesn’t take away my fascination.

With crime dramas and psychological thrillers becoming increasingly popular, I think that this study is well timed, and of more value to the general public than most psychological studies nowadays. If anything, it will give us more of an insight into what a Psychopath truly is – hopefully relieving society of the hollywood depiction of this affliction.

Unfortunately the full article is blocked, but if you would like to purchase it then here is where to do it.

What I can offer you is an extract, taken from

“Among the most interesting recent and most realistic idiopathic psychopathic characters is Anton Chigurh in the 2007 Coen brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men. Anton Chigurh is a well-designed prototypical idiopathic / primary psychopath. We lack information concerning his childhood, but there are sufficient arguments and detailed information about his behavior in the film to obtain a diagnosis of active, primary, idiopathic psychopathy, incapacity for love, absence of shame or remorse, lack of psychological insight, inability to learn from past experience, cold-blooded attitude, ruthlessness, total determination, and lack of empathy. He seems to be affectively invulnerable and resistant to any form of emotion or humanity. Having read and studied [serial killer] Richard Kuklinski’s case, Chigurh and Kuklinski have several traits in common. In the case of Chigurh, the description is extreme, but we could realistically almost talk about “an anti-human personality disorder”.

Another realistic interesting example is Henry (inspired from [real life serial killer] Henry Lee Lucas) (Henry-Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1991). In this film, the main, interesting theme is the chaos and instability in the life of the psychopath, Henry’s lack of insight, a powerful lack of empathy, emotional poverty, and a well-illustrated failure to plan ahead. George Harvey is another different and interesting character found in The Lovely Bones, 2009. Harvey is more ‘adapted’ than Chigurh and Henry. He has a house, is socially competent and seems like ‘the average man on the street’. Through the film, we learn that he is in fact an organized paraphilic SVP [sexually violent predator]. Here, the false self is well illustrated.
In terms of a ‘successful psychopath’, Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (1987) is probably one of the most interesting, manipulative, psychopathic fictional characters to date. Manipulative psychopathic characters are increasingly appearing in films and series. Again, we observe the same process, as observed and explained before, with antisocial psychopaths. For the past few years, with the world economic crises and some high-profile trials (such as the Bernard Madoff trial), the attention of the clinicians is more focused on ‘successful psychopaths’, also called corporate psychopaths by Babiak et al. Films and series presenting characters such as brokers, dishonest traders, vicious lawyers, and those engaged in corporate espionage are emerging (e.g., Mad Men, The Wire) and are generally related to the global economy and international business. Again, we see a strong parallelism between what happens in our society and what happens in film.”

What we can learn here is that psychopathy doesn’t always involve violence and terror; as vaughanbell states, the clinical definition is not what most people assume it to be. Psychopaths are people who are ‘impulsive, manipulative, and have little empathy and remorse’.


Written by: Philippa Berry (partially)

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