Psychos and Psychopaths of the Silver Screen

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Samuel Leistedt has my dream job.

The Belgian forensic psychology professor and his team watched 400 movies and diagnosed 126 characters as true psychopaths.

They concluded that many famous movie crazies don’t fit the diagnostic criteria. Psycho (1960), for example, is about a psychotic, not a psychopath; Norman Bates converses with—and dresses up as—his dead mother, and such delusions are characteristic of the former, not the latter.

The same goes for Robert DeNiro’s “Travis Bickle” in Taxi Driver (1976). While they don’t mention it in the paper, the authors seem sympathetic to the critical theory that the film’s “happy” ending—or even much of the rest of the movie—depicts Bickle’s psychotic delusions of grandeur and not “real” events.

Forensic psychiatrists have been trying for years to disabuse laymen of the notion that Hannibal Lecter of Silence of the Lambs fame is a typical psychopath. Leistedt takes up that possibly lost cause here: no, the average psychopath is not a strangely seductive high-IQ gourmand with impeccable manners.

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