Irrationality, impulsivity, Meanness: Embodying a Criminal Psychopath

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Irrationality, impulsivity, and a stark lack of empathy: perhaps, nobody who has seen the likes of Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter, or Norman Bates would wish to meet such a person in real life. Still, these energetic, individual, and tragic characters are fascinating to observe, pulling a large audience into theatres.

Cinema bears a rich history of villains with utterly distinctive tendencies to frenzy, malevolence, and psychopathy. While books can merely create a written depiction of a psychopaths' personality, the movie screen offers a far more engaging and frightening point of view, thanks to the extraordinary acting performances.

Looking at movies like Joker (2019), Taxi Driver (1976), or The Silence of the Lambs (1991), one recognizes the complexity defining the antagonists' characters. The condition of psychopathy, more specifically, criminal psychopathy, describes a highly aggressive and disinhibited conception explicitly entailing persistent and sometimes severe criminal behavior. Characters like the Joker, the archenemy of Batman, and arguably one of the greatest antagonists in movie history drop the audience's jaw due to their impulsive and highly irrational reactions. Consequently, putting oneself in a psycho's position is challenging to master.

Heath Ledger, who famously played the Joker in "Batman - The Dark Knight," told Empire in a 2007 interview: "It's a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it. I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary, and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He's just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown." Although director Christopher Nolan allowed quite a bit of creative control over Ledgers' iteration of the Joker, he suggested several sources of inspiration, including paintings of Francis Bacon, the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, and heavy metal music. These references defined the type of Joker Nolan envisioned for the film and helped form the final version.

But the endeavors were not solely extreme due to entering a mindset of insanity. Ledger also pushed himself physically. He was so dedicated to the role that he encouraged Christian Bale to assault him physically to create an even more authentic scene. Although Bale tried to convince Ledger that the scene would look just as accurate if they faked the fighting, Ledger insisted that Bale didn't pull any punches and even tried to provoke him to hit harder. Ledger's successor, Joaquin Phoenix, underwent an incredibly strict diet to create an authentic image of a personality so disturbing, insane, and tragic as the Joker.

Still, even if arguably the most notable one, the Joker is not the only compelling psychopath we were honored to witness on a movie screen. There are several humanly representations of insanity. As the vast majority cannot relate to the antagonists' behavior (luckily), we're amazed by observing how different a mind can function.

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