Notes From Kristen

Thirteen Films About Narcissists: What to Show Someone to Help Them ‘Get It’

It’s no accident that we can turn to films to be “entertained” by characters who have traits of narcissism.  Most of the time in films, these traits lead them to engage in behaviors found in malignant narcissists and psychopaths at the extreme end of the spectrum: physically harming or killing others in cold blood or draining the bank accounts of unsuspecting victims.

These are the acts that tend to be the more visually transferable, shocking and dramatic among all of the behaviors that can result when some personality traits such as grandiosity, lack of empathy, manipulativeness, and extreme self-interest are combined into an unfortunate and destructive social cocktail.

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. Suzanne Stone in To Die For. Tom and even Dickie in The Talented Mr. Ripley.   

We as movie-goers never seem to tire of films in which men or women who look perfectly normal to us at the beginning turn on other characters or work behind the scenes to betray or destroy in horrendous fashion those who love and trust them the most.

We know what’s going to happen, but we watch it anyway, whether it’s a thriller or a drama hurling toward a tragic end.

What all of the psychopathic characters share in common are a lack of guilt, remorse or empathy, a willingness to lie, manipulate or hurt others through whatever means are at their disposal to gain the things they want, a disloyalty for almost everyone who is in their own inner circles, a sense of entitlement, feeling superior, or that they are above the law, and a charismatic presence that both allows them to manipulate the other characters and sometimes allows them to charm the audience too, depending on how the film is shot.

They are not just in it to feed their grandiose egos:  they will use every antisocial method at their disposal to get it.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Most narcissists in the real world are not killers, however, and these characters, after all, exist only films, and yet still we can recognize as we watch film such as these the callousness to the human suffering they inflict, and they way they are able to switch false emotions on and off depending on the audience.  It’s both fascinating and chilling.

Below are thirteen films (or mini-series) that depict narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths doing something besides chasing people with butcher knives through the forest wearing masks while people scream and trip over dead branches (although they may certainly murder as well).

Interestingly, however, death– usually violent murder– plays a role in almost all of these films, however, that is almost never the point of the plots. The films show the characters in their every day lives interacting in their social worlds as well.

There are those times when they intentionally cause harm, for enjoyment or revenge.  But more often than not, it’s just because someone got in their way.

We can see how they are just as conscienceless, manipulative, cold and sometimes calculating when they are not even intentionally hurting someone.  We can see how they are these things when all they are trying to do is look out for themselves— it just so happens that other characters are often collateral damage.

What’s interesting about these films is that sometimes the behavior of the narcissist is perceived as harmful and negative, sometimes it is perceived as humorous, and sometimes it is perceived as admirable– usually based on how other characters treat them.  You can often tell too by how you feel about the character (or how others around you who are watching the film seem to feel about the character)– that will tell you how the filmmakers intended the character to be portrayed.

In the descriptions below of each film, I won’t specifically give away who the narcissists or psychopaths are or what the relationships to those characters are in each because, in some of the films, it’s meant to be a mystery while watching.

Please be warned that because death makes for enticing drama, almost all of these films contain a death, usually murder, as I noted above.  More importantly, however, some also contain domestic violence, sexual assault, or suicidal themes. If the film has a star next to the title, it contains one or more of these three sensitive topics in it, so please be aware of this if you plan to watch the film.

Also, I tried to be as clear as possible about what the films were about and the genre of the film without giving too much away.  If you know you find a particular genre to be triggering or upsetting, such as horror films, or you believe that watching a comedy with a narcissist in it would be upsetting, please use your own best judgment about watching these films.

With that being said, I also tried to provide some comments about what I thought was noteworthy when it came to narcissism, sociopathy or psychopathy in each film.  I didn’t want to get too detailed to avoid saying too much, particularly on the mystery and suspense films.  I encourage you to take your own notes!  I think you will find there could be a lot of a-ha moments.

Do any of these explain particularly well any concepts that you had difficulty explaining to someone else?  Maybe it’s time to have movie night with someone you care about.

I hope you enjoy this list.  If you have other favorites that help explain narcissism or narcissistic abuse for you, please put them in the comments for others (including myself) to watch and learn from. Thank you!

 

*1. American Psycho

  • Release Year: 2000
  • Genre:  horror; satire
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 68%
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon
  • Description: A very successful yet vain and shallow businessman leads a double life as a serial killer.
  • Things to Note about Narcissism/Psychopathy: The obvious display of many of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder; also the film does a good job of showing the pervasive emptiness that lies behind the mask the main character wears.
  • How to Watch: Watch for free on Amazon Prime, which you can try for free for 30 days here

 

*2. Big Little Lies (HBO one-season mini-series)

  • Release Year: 2017
  • Genre:  drama; mystery
  • Rated: M (Mature)
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 93%
  • Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard
  • Description: Against the backdrop of a murder where neither the identity of the victim nor the suspect is disclosed, a wealthy community unravels as the secrets that hide behind the veneer of perfection threaten to tear apart marriages, families, and friendships.
  • Things to Note about Narcissism/Psychopathy: The primary abusive relationship in this film, in particular, the characteristics of the abuser that unfold throughout the series and the trauma bonding effect on the survivor
  • How to Watch: Watch for free on your HBOGo subscription, which you can try for free for 7 days here

 

3. Catch Me If You Can

  • Release Year: 2002
  • Genre:  drama; comedy
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 96%
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks
  • Description: Based on a true story, this film portrays the financial cons performed by a young man in his late teens by impersonating people in important occupations.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: The ease with which Frank can slip in and out of multiple lives and engage in his pathological lies.
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

4. Creep

  • Release Year: 2014
  • Genre:  horror; suspense
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) rating: 96%
  • Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
  • Description:  A photographer answers a Craig’s List ad and is asked to make a video of a man who claims to be dying that he can leave behind for his unborn son, yet the photographer is increasingly asked to do things that seem unorthodox.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: The methods of grooming on the part of the man doing the hiring and how the photographer’s boundaries are slowly eroded over time. Also, pay attention to the very end of the film and what it says about the photographer’s trust and view of humankind.
  • How to Watch:  Watch for free with your Netflix subscription

 

5. Cruel Intentions

  • Release Year: 1999
  • Genre:  drama
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 48%
  • Starring: Sara Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon
  • Description: Two wealthy, unsupervised teenaged stepsiblings make a high-stakes bet with one another that entails the sexual manipulation of two unsuspecting younger women.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: This is sociopathy at the far end of the spectrum: cold, calculating, and meant to cause as much damage as possible for sheer amusement and revenge. How many sociopaths are there in the film?
  • How to Watch: Watch for free with your Netflix subscription

 

6. Deceived

  • Release Year: 1991
  • Genre:  suspense; mystery
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 39%
  • Starring: Goldie Hawn, John Heard
  • Description: A man dies not soon after being accused of museum art forgery. After his death, however, his wife discovers that he wasn’t the man she thought he was.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: This is a mystery so I don’t want to say too much, but if you pay attention to the dynamics of the relationship between Hawn and Heard, you can recognize the abusive pattern of a narcissistic relationship immediately.
  • How to Watch: Watch for free with your Netflix subscription

 

*7. The Girl on the Train

  • Release Year: 2016
  • Genre:  suspense; mystery
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 45%
  • Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux
  • Description: A woman with an alcohol problem becomes involved in a murder investigation when a woman she sees from the window of a train every day goes missing.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: I don’t want to give too much away because this is a mystery, but when the movie is over, think back on the tactics used to confuse the characters (and the audience) about who to believe.
  • How to Watch: Watch for free with your Showtime subscription, which you can try for free for 7 days here

 

*8. Gone Girl

  • Release Year: 2014
  • Genre:  suspense, mystery
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 45%
  • Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux
  • Description: When a woman suddenly disappears under mysterious and apparently violent circumstances, her husband comes under intense media scrutiny, while he and the police try to unravel the clues that will lead to finding her and possibly her killer. 
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: Again, I don’t want to give too much away but, as with The Girl on the Train, think back on your own perceptions of who the credible witnesses are and why.
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

*9. Ordinary People

  • Release Year: 1980
  • Genre:  drama
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 90%
  • Starring: Donald Sutherland; Timothy Hutton; Mary Tyler Moore
  • Description: When the oldest son in a family dies accidentally, the destructive pattern and underlying emotions of the remaining family members begins to surface. 
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: This film does not focus on romantic relationships that much, however, it shows what happens when narcissists have children, and one becomes a golden child and the other, a scapegoat.  
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

10. The Talented Mr. Ripley

  • Release Year: 1999
  • Genre:  suspense; drama
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 83%
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Description: A young washroom attendant meets a wealthy shipping tycoon by chance, who offers to pay him to bring his son back from Italy, but after the two become friends, his goal shifts significantly. 
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: Matt Damon’s character is a character study in sociopathy, but he’s not the only character in this film with a Cluster B Personality Disorder  
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

11. To Die For

  • Release Year: 1995
  • Genre:  black comedy
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 87%
  • Starring: Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix
  • Description: A woman with aspirations of being a famous news journalist seduces and manipulates three local teenagers into a murder plot to help her accomplish her goal. 
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: There are so few films about female narcissists or sociopaths of this type, that this film is a great one for comparing and contrasting the differences in the portrayal between men and women. 
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

*12. White Oleander

  • Release Year:  2002
  • Genre: drama
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 69%
  • Starring: Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger
  • Description: A teenaged girl passes through a series of foster homes after her impulsive, aloof mother is given a prison sentence for murdering her boyfriend.  
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: Many of the tactics that narcissists use can be seen, but from the eyes of someone on whom they are not being used (most of the time). 
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

*13. The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Release Year:  2013
  • Genre: drama; black comedy
  • Rated: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes (critics) Rating: 78%
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill 
  • Description: Based on a true story, this film shows the rise of a Wall Street tycoon who built his own company and eventually led a very excessive and affluent lifestyle until eventually being arrested and serving time for corruption and fraud.
  • Things to Note About Narcissism/Psychopathy: This film mostly depicts a corporate psychopath, however, his behavior in every other aspect of his life shown (e.g., family, friendship, property, etc.) demonstrate how and why it is a personality disorder and not merely greed motivating his behavior.
  • How to Watch: Rent from Amazon here

 

NOTE:  All “How to Watch” information about these films is current as of October 2018.  Please double-check the websites linked to ensure the films are available as listed.

Kristen Milstead

Instagram: fairytaleshadows

4 thoughts on “Thirteen Films About Narcissists: What to Show Someone to Help Them ‘Get It’

  1. Recently on Dutch television I saw a reallife narc in the program ‘Help mijn man is klusser!’ 2018 episode 4. The serie is about women who are extremely stressed by the unfinished diy house improvements of their man. The relationship in this episode seems loving but it’s fake. The woman feels unsafe to tell her husband because he reacts so angry but at the end of the episode he flipped that around to being her fault. How he does it is so incidious. It’s so cunning how he let the workmen, the show host and the audience believe the woman is crazy. Chilling. She ends up asking for forgiveness. The bastard

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