An American Fascination: Murderers in Literature, Film, and Reality (Final Paper)

•05/14/2010 • 1 Comment

A love of drama drives the literature and film businesses, but also drives media coverage of real life events.  Murder is high on the list of dramatic material that makes hearts race, blood pump, and excitement overflow.  A murderer is a study in human psychology that never grows boring.  What drives a man to murder becomes the question behind all examinations and one wonders: Does one have to be an egoist to commit murder, or is it simply a matter of pushing the correct buttons to make a person snap?  The egoist man is self serving and feels superior to all others.  He maintains that he alone is the center of the world and thus above the law and those beneath him. This mindset creates a frame that suits murderers well.

Although the murderers of literature and film are figments of fiction and of the minds of their creators, these murderers mimic reality and display characteristics of the minds of killers from the past and present.  Through a psychological examination of murders in literature, film and real life, one finds uncanny connections.  The reasoning behind the murders in movies and books compares effectively with those that have occurred in life.  In studying real cases and murderers, writers of fiction can add depth to their characters using the murderer’s mind as fodder.  Edgar Allen Poe is known as the inventor of suspense and thrillers and his character Montressor in “The Cask of Amontillado” is a brutal murderer who buries a man alive and walks away laughing.  In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov kills two women mercilessly, those he judged of a “lesser” kind, out of sheer egotistical reasoning. Woody Allen creates the image of a perfect family man, a doctor, who has his mistress killed to avoid disruption of his own perfect image; a man whose reasoning for murder is pride and high class egotism.  In both American Psycho and There Will Be Blood, men kill ruthlessly, without one thought for their victims or regard for their own horrible transgressions.  Examination of the minds of these murderers in literature and film reveals the connection between one’s ego and the ability to kill, showing that with or without a reason, murderers are almost always egoists.

When one looks for the roots of murder as a subject of literature or film, the Gothic period comes to mind.  There is no doubt that authors of this period pioneered the murder mystery, the gore story, and the psychological thriller.  These stories provided the characters that are mimicked time and again in both film and print.  In a study of the histories of murder in literature, Joel Black noted:

We are made aware of the degree to which the genres of horror and murder mystery are informed by a Gothic sensibility, while noting the Enlightenment principles at work in detective fiction and in accounts of criminal investigation.  Through an ongoing process of life imitating art, eighteenth-century Gothic fiction provided the basis for the nineteenth-century nonfictional murder narrative, which in turn anticipated Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘invention’ of detective fiction…(783).

Edgar Allen Poe, well known as one of the forefathers of this kind of writing, is noted here as a continuation of an already developing genre of fiction writers.   Black relates the idea that the Enlightenment era provided the background for reasoning and examination, which in turn fuels the detective and psychological side of murder writing.  When combined, Gothic and Enlightenment ways of thinking have become the basis for the ways in which murder characters are written, performed, or in one way, live in reality.  Because murderers are studied after their crimes are committed, they are examined through a lens of past experience, reason, and what detectives have learned through fiction.

Characters in literature were first, before filmic counterparts, to portray the inner workings of murderer’s minds; the intricacies of their manias developed in print, allowing for close examination.  Edgar Allen Poe, one of the most notorious authors of suspense fiction, created an egotistically driven murder in “The Cask of Amontillado.”  Montressor’s drive to kill for revenge and his vain inner dialogue show the reader that he is a man with a huge ego: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I have borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (490).  Montressor is the speaker here and is the narrator of the story. This is the first line of the short story and Poe immediately demonstrates to his reader that Montressor is a man who does not take insult lightly.  Montressor’s ego is fragile and when that ego is threatened, he decided to brutally kill Fortunato as revenge for insult.

The public’s enthrallment with murder, and crime in general, is the reason the genre is oft published and used in film today.  After Poe’s success with the murder and suspense genre, countless authors and film makers have followed in his footsteps, each trying to out-do the last with the twisted minds of their characters.  The phenomenon is further bolstered by it commercial opportunities: “Murder, of course, is the very essence of drama; book and play have always found dalliance with death a sure formula for profitable popularity” (Banay 26). Whether in a work of fiction or nonfiction, the subject of murder will always draw audiences. For an author, there is the double edged sword of a desensitized audience that drives each story to become more complicated and twisted but also keeps the murder writer working.  The minds of murderers create an “other” that is alluring to both those who find him frightening or those who find him interesting.  The differences in motive make each study intriguing and fear- provoking, especially when a character reveals traits that one finds in themselves or in friends.  The study of ego in murder makes the successful, self driven man suspect, as described by Ralph Banay in his essay “Study in Murder”:

The supercultural group is made up of those persons whose natural endowments and social and educational privileges put them above the crowd; they are men and women of achievement and superior intellect, members of professions, business executives, successful artists…In many of these persons the plexus of inhibitions by which their lives are so rigidly maintained that little or no outlet is left for the natural impulses of aggression (27).

This “super culture man” may be viewed as the egotistical man who cannot see that he truly is no better than those around him, regardless of his education or his career status.  Because he feels he is better than people around him, he may treat others with little respect or become easily angered by their “lesser” intellect.  His lack of an outlet, as described by Banay, creates a boiling pot that will eventually blow its own top off, in the form of a heinous crime: murder.

Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment is a perfect character for such a study in reasoning.  Like Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, Dostoevsky’s novel is written in first person, with the murderer as the narrator.  Raskolnikov believes he is a thinker and feels his time is best spent thinking rather than working.  His endless inner monologues provide insight into his prideful world; even when he is living in abject poverty and as a degenerate he feels he is superior the rest of the world.   Raskolnikov’s essay in the fictional magazine Periodical Discourse offers a concise explanation of this egoism: “I merely suggested that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is, not the official right, but his own right, to allow his conscience to… step over certain obstacles…” (Dostoevsky 259). Although Raskolnikov does not directly explain that this is his reason for the murders of his victims, it is clear that he feels he is one of these extraordinary men, or at least that he wishes to prove to himself that he is so.  Unfortunately in the end, despite his larger than life ego, Raskolnikov cannot bear the guilt of the crime and finds himself to be of the un-extraordinary kind.

Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors bears uncanny similarity in its themes and character profiles to the work of Dostoevsky.  The character of Judah in this film also has qualities of the “super culture man” that Banay discussed in his study.  Allen developed the character of Judah who is a doctor and husband, a picture of high class and prestigious.  Judah has had an affair and when this mistress threatens to ruin this perfect image, Judah’s ego cannot allow it.  He hires an assassin and has the woman killed, suiting Judah’s desire to squelch the chances that his world will come crashing down around him.  Instead of thinking of the consequences of murder, Judah thinks only of himself and the threat a mistress poses to his picture perfect marriage and professional reputation.  He struggles with guilt for some time, but eventually resigns to allow that guilt to pass so that he go on living as if nothing horrible has happened.  This conflict creates a dilemma for the audience.  One would question whether a man who has been involved with murder might ever truly return to living comfortably, without thought for his sin.

Montressor, Raskolnikov, and Judah are all characters that may be considered highly intellectual, set-apart from the crowd, and egotistical in their own rights, yet there is another character trait that may be examined for murderous tendencies.  The narcissistic man and the violent man may have more similarities than one thinks: “Violent men seem to have a strong sense of personal superiority, and their violence often seems to stem from a sense of wounded pride” (Baumeister 26).  Although egotism and narcissism can be viewed as complimentary to each other, there are differences that make up the minds of their human counterparts.  To display violence toward another living thing, a superiority complex is nearly always present. Violence itself shows a disregard for other life.  For murder, this must be taken further still.  Egotists may feel superior to others, but a narcissist feels no empathy toward others, which makes the latter more dangerous yet.  Baumeister and his colleges, in their study of links between self esteem and violence discovered that: “…the highest levels of aggression were exhibited by people who had scored high on narcissism and been insulted…Narcissism has thus taken center stage as the form of self-regard most clearly associated with violence” (27).  The key in this study is that the narcissist must feel that he has been insulted in some way to act aggressively towards someone else.  In fiction, this provides perfect motive for murder and perfect ways to create drama for the audience.  Baumeister continues:

These findings suggest that the dangerous aspects of narcissism are not so much simple vanity and self-admiration as the inflated sense of being superior to others and being entitled to special privileges.  It is apparently fine to love oneself quietly-instead, the interpersonal manifestations of narcissism are the ones associated with violence (28).

This study provides insight in to the mind of the characters in Dostoevsky’s novel as well as other works wherein the murderer feels others should hold him in the same high regard as he holds himself.  Although it seems it would be difficult for a narcissist to live quietly, the quiet life lived in high self-regard is the safest way to live. Because of the human interaction that comes along with a public life, or even a regular, common life, the chances for insult are great for any person who feels superior to his peers.  If even one person does not hold the same opinion, there is a chance for the narcissist to lose control of emotion.

The egoist, narcissistic murderers in American Psycho and There Will Be Blood possess a detachment and lack of emotion that chills the audience and causes one to assess what exactly it is that drives a man to kill and remain outwardly pleased with his acts.  In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is a successful businessman living in the 1980’s, an era of self indulgence and one in which image is paramount.  The story is told from the point of view of the killer, Patrick Bateman, whose narration of his egotistical habits is incessant. This point of view is like that of Poe and Dostoevsky’s works that allow the audience a very personal look at the mind of the killer. Bateman lives his life as a shell of a man, a hollow being with no emotion, and no one knows that he sadistically and methodically murderers multiple people.  Bateman’s ability to kill people without reason or provocation and the personal pleasure he derives from these acts shows the audience just how narcissistic and maniacal a man can be, possibly even more so than in movies in which motivations are clear.

There are several deaths in the film There Will Be Blood, yet the murder that occurs in the last act of the film is most perplexing and interesting in relation to reason and ego.  The character of Plainview has been listening to Eli, an evangelical speaker, plead for help with finance.  Plainview decides to force Eli to confess being a false prophet and then proceeds to beat Eli to death with a bowling pin. Immediately following the beating, Plainview walks away without regard for the mess he has made in his own bowling alley.  He is so self absorbed that he does not even see past his own thoughts to realize that he just killed a man in his own home.  In this case, Plainview’s ego took over for reason, and Plainview chose to humiliate Eli before killing him rather than allowing him to speak any longer, thereby expressing power over Eli and Eli’s ego. This scene concludes the story, leaving the audience to once again ponder a man’s ability to do such heartless things and then just walk away nonchalantly. Or does he suffer after the credits roll?

The murders and respective perpetrators of film and literature mimic and draw upon reality as the author’s imagination is sparked by murders of the past and present.  News and media coverage of the details of murder become fuel and food for the mind of a crime writer.  Like study of literature or film, real life murders are studied by various people; to learn about the suspects, solve cases, or for future preparation.  In a study by psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, of various kinds of murderers, the twisted nature of the minds and souls of the killers became the focus.  Her study is the topic of a Washington Post article by Richard Leiby, who deduces that:

In another category are those latent maniacs who get mired in frustrating circumstances, spiral into failure after failure, and finally snap.  To embrace wanton murder and terrorism, though, they seem to require one more element; ideology.  It fuels their sickness and makes them feel more grandiose.  They act in the name of God, or revolution, or whatever.” (C 01)

The idea that the murderer’s egos are actually fueled or even reignited by the murders they commit is something that gives depth to the people who commit these crimes.  Leiby’s article describes cases in which murders are viewed as purely motivated by evil.  The murderer’s eyes and actions give away their innermost attitudes and disregard for human life.  The description in the above quote is applicable to the specific murderers that exist today as well as those found in fiction.  Raskolnikov’s failures in life lead him to a path of redemption, in his mind, through murder.  The ideologies of Montressor, Judah, Bateman, and Plainview are expressed in the nature of their murders as well as their reasoning for doing the crimes.  Bateman’s cool exterior and unwavering eyes portray pure evil to the audience.

By scrutinizing the murderers in various literature and film texts, a common denominator becomes apparent.  Each of the murderers possesses a sense of self-involvement and egoism. All feel that they have something to prove or an image to maintain. The murder in each fictional setting is given depth and dimension through his respective ideologies and the thoughts that drive him to murder. Like non-fictional murderers, these characters are fully developed beings that have egos that have been fractures, crushed, or even exploded to vast proportions that are fed by their acts of violence. The theories that the audience uses to deduce the problems in the minds of these characters are the same as those that are used in real life circumstances.  Because the line has slowly blurred between fiction and reality, the understanding of real life murderers fuels the understanding of those in fiction. The psychology of the murderer is one more branch of the gothic story, the suspense thriller, and the horror flick of the past.  In the two examples of literature, by Poe and Dostoevsky, murderers feel their own self images are worth more than the lives of their victims; Montressor has been insulted and Raskolnikov challenges his own fear of insignificance and emasculation. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Judah’s ego overrules his intelligence and his mistress pays the price.  In American Psycho, Bateman finds pleasure in killing and his picturesque appearance shows no traces of the blood he sheds.  Finally, in There Will Be Blood, the ending scene depicts a brutal murder with a bowling pin inside the mansion of the deranged and egotistical murderer. Although the murders are different in form and detail, all of the men are egoists in their own right.  Analysis and character study establishes a common thread, egoism, which may be seen in murderers regardless of motivation or apparent absence of it.

Works Cited

American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale. Lions Gate Entertainment. 2000. Film.

Banay, Ralph S. “Study in Murder.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol 284 Murder   and the Penalty of Death Nov 1952: 26-34. Web. JSTOR. 2 May 2010.

Baumeister, Brad J., W. Bushman, and Keith Campbell. “Self-Esteem, Narcissism, and Aggression: Does Violence Result from Low Self-Estem or from Threatened Egotism?” Current Directions in Psychological Science Vol 9 No 1 Feb 2000: 26-9. Web. JSTOR 2 May 2010

Black, Joel. “Murder: The State of the Art” American Literary History Vol 12 No 4 Winter 2000: 780-93. Web. JSTOR. 2 May 2010.

Crimes and Misdemeanors. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Martin Landau. Orion Pictures. 1989. Film.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Vintage Classics, 1993. Print.

Leiby, Richard. “The Warped Mind Or Warped Soul at The Heart of a Killer:[Final Edition].” Washington Post. 26 October 2002: C.01. Web. ProQuest. 16 April 2010.

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Literature and Its Writers. Fourth Edition. Ed. Charters, Ann, Charters, Samuel. Boston: Beford/St. Martin’s. 2007. 490-95. Print.

Seven. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey. New Line Cinema. 1995. Film.

There Will Be Blood. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson. Perf. Daniel Day Lewis. Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films. 2007. Film.

Bradbury and Allen: Paper and Film

•04/28/2010 • Leave a Comment

Farenheit 451 and Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper have more similarities than any other book/film combination.  Because the class objective is to discuss the connections between Allen’s work and his literary influences, these two are the easiest to assess. The major themes of the book, total mind control by the government, resistance to the “other”, and discarding history for technology, are all present in the movie as well.

Specifics of the movie are almost direct copying of scenes and elements in the book. Allen’ use of the tele-screen is taken directly from the wall televisions in the novel.  The futuristic characteristics of the film and the attitudes of the characters were so similar, I am surprised that the film is not of the same name.   The scene in which the man is talking to Luna about something tragic and uncomfortable compares nicely with the section of the novel where Montag and Linda discuss the death of Clarisse.  She completely dismisses any discussion of anything unpleasing.  She does not want to hear about it, just as Linda completely dismisses the death of Clarisse.  She does not want to discuss details or feelings, and she does not understand why Montag is upset or even thinking about it.   In Sleeper, Allen uses futuristic government and police mind control, just as Bradbury uses mind control as a government tool in the book.  The elimination of all intellectual beings and the “underground” in Sleeper resembles the eradication of books and their subsequent readers in Farenheit 451.  These are just a few examples of how easily the two compare to each other.  The influence of Bradbury on Allen is undeniable. The different mediums in which the two pieces are made create individual characteristics, yet the overall theme is uncannily similar.

Dream Woman?: The Cyborg Manifesto

•04/20/2010 • Leave a Comment

Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto challenges her reader’s ideas about feminism, post-modern ideology and the role of women in society and fiction.  The cyborg woman is a combination of physical perfection, fictional and social reality,  and complete submission to the idea of a female identity that is not individualized.  The cyborg woman, for Haraway, exists both in the natural world and the world of fiction and ideology.  She creates a totally fictional belief system centered around the cyborg woman.  She places a huge emphasis on the fact that there is nothing, besides a double X, to completely bind women together in a stereotypical group and trying to do so reinforces the oppression of women of past societies.  The quest for a unified identity in woman’s groups is counter productive, says Haraway, and instead women should strive for an affinity as opposed to an identity.  She uses the idea of cyborgs to encourage feminists to go beyond their arguments of essentialism and naturalism, beyond the “hippie” image and into a virtual dream world.

Woody Allen’s quest for the beautiful intellectual who is a feminist but still submissive to him exemplifies this cyborg idea.  No real woman who hold those qualities would exist, except in fiction.  By creating such characters, Allen fulfills his desires through a fictional pathway.  Allen’s female lead characters throughout his film career are strong, intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful, and politically inclined.  The hold strong views on political and social topics while still posing as sex kittens in Allen’s dream world.  The cyborg for Allen exists on film which is a mix of reality and fiction on a big screen.

Panopticism: A Model Society

•04/18/2010 • Leave a Comment

The concept of panopticism described in the reading this week appears effective and simple in theory but more complicated in reality.  The use of this idea in a prison or hospital setting seems most effective but if it were implemented in a school setting all of the social learning would be lost.  A school setting or work setting would produce productive but depressed zombies.   Panopticism as a way to stop the spread of plague in a societal setting has different implementation but the concept prevails. The prevention of the plague or the systematic cleansing of an infected community necessitates such strict strategy as panopticism offers.  The idea of the “Big Brother” society follows similar lines as the society depicted in the reading, where in there are people constantly watching and everything is monitored and recorded.  No activity goes unnoticed and the citizens are robbed of all freedom.  This “Big Brother” idea brings Panopticism into the twenty-first century.

This concept seems appealing to Woody Allen because of the multitude of ways he could use it and derivatives of it as fodder in his film.  Allen’s use of  political and civil models in his work ties in with his desire to depict a very specific society and his tendency to make the setting a character in itself.  Allen’s knowledge of theories in regard to different eras and different cultures fuel his complex script structures and also are brought into actual discussions in the films themselves.

Three Sisters: The Portrayal of Women in Polarity

•04/13/2010 • Leave a Comment

Chekhov’s play, Three Sisters, is a picture of life for three very different women who are bound through familial ties yet seem to be polar opposites.  The characters in this play depict women in a seemingly negative light.  Although only a portion of the play was shown as film in class, each character’s attitude and actions were sufficient in deriving an overall idea of their personality.  The eldest sister, Olga, is sorrowful and pessimistic.  She wears all black and seems to be in a permanent state of mourning.  Her eyes seem constantly downcast and she seems to want to escape the party atmosphere on her sister’s name day.  The arrival of the Moscow soldier brightens her face significantly, but she still is leery of his presence.  The middle sister, Maria, is happier and more optimistic.  Her personality seems flighty, as if she is not one who tends to think deeply or ponder much.  She is married but seems to have distaste for her husband even when he dotes on her.  She is apt to join in conversation and tag along to her youngest sisters train of thought.  She appears to be easily amused and swayed in opinion or topic of conversation.  The youngest sister, Irina, is the main character of the scenes we viewed in class.  She has just turned 20 and is celebrating this event.  She appears to still be amused by childish things (the musical top) but she also wishes to act mature and work.  Born into wealth, the idea of work to her is fascinating and seems so much better than doing nothing all day, yet she rises two hours after waking up spending her first two hours in bed thinking.  Irina is prone to philosophical thoughts more than her sisters and seems to be bothered more easily.  Her age and disposition make her more susceptible to emotion and she cries easily.  Irina could best be described as melancholy with bouts of manic joy.  These three sisters oppose each other in attitude as well as styling and dress, at least in the film rendition of the play.   Olga wears all black with her hair pinned up with a hat, Maria wears navy blue and has less drastic hair, and Irina is in white with her hair down around her shoulders.  Their outfits match their demeanor.   Overall, the sisters in this play depict three very different types of women.  When the sisters are all together, they complete each other with what each is lacking; be it a need to be more grounded or an uplifting of spirits.

The Egoist and Murder: An Examination of Murderers in Literature and Film

•03/23/2010 • 1 Comment

Does one have to be an egoist to commit murder, or is it simply a matter of pushing the correct buttons to make a person snap?  The egoist man is self serving and feels superior to all others.  He maintains that he alone is the center of the world and thus above the law and those beneath him. This mindset creates a frame that suits murderers well. Although the murderers of literature and film are figments of fiction and of the minds of their creators, these murderers mimic reality and display characteristics of the minds of killers from the past and present.  In studying real cases and murderers, writers of fiction can add depth to their characters using the murderer’s mind as fodder.  Edgar Allen Poe is known as the inventor of suspense and thrillers and his character Montressor in “The Cask of Amontillado” is a brutal murderer who buries a man alive and walks away laughing.  In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov kills two women mercilessly, those he judged of a “lesser” kind, out of sheer egotistical reasoning. Woody Allen creates the image of a perfect family man, a doctor, who has his mistress killed to avoid disruption of his own perfect image; a man whose reasoning for murder is pride and high class egotism.  In both American Psycho and There Will Be Blood, men kill ruthlessly, without one thought for their victims or regard for their own horrible transgressions.  Examination of the minds of these murderers in literature and film reveals the connection between one’s ego and the ability to kill, showing that with or without a reason, murderers are almost always egoists.

Characters in literature were first, before filmic counterparts, to portray the inner workings of murderer’s minds; the intricacies of their manias developed in print, allowing for close examination.  Edgar Allen Poe, one of the most notorious authors of suspense fiction, created an egotistically driven murder in “The Cask of Amontillado.”  Montressor’s drive to kill for revenge and his vain inner dialogue show the reader that he is a man with a huge ego: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I have borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (490).  Montressor is the speaker here and is the narrator of the story. This is the first line of the short story and Poe immediately demonstrates to his reader that Montressor is a man who does not take insult lightly.  Montressor’s ego is fragile and when that ego is threatened, he decided to brutally kill Fortunato as revenge for insult.

Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment bears similarity to Montressor.  Like Poe’s, Dostoevsky’s novel is written in first person, with the murderer as the narrator.  Raskolnikov believes he is a thinker and feels his time is best spent thinking rather than working.  His endless inner monologues provide insight into his prideful world; even when he is living in abject poverty and as a degenerate he feels he is superior the rest of the world.   Raskolnikov’s essay in the fictional magazine Periodical Discourse offers a concise explanation of this egoism: “I merely suggested that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is, not the official right, but his own right, to allow his conscience to… step over certain obstacles…” (Dostoevsky 259). Although Raskolnikov does not directly explain that this is his reason for the murders of his victims, it is clear that he feels he is one of these extraordinary men, or at least that he wishes to prove to himself that he is so.  Unfortunately in the end, despite his larger than life ego, Raskolnikov cannot bear the guilt of the crime and finds himself to be of the un-extraordinary kind.

Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors bears uncanny similarity in its themes and character profiles to the work of Dostoevsky.  Allen’s character, Judah, is a doctor and husband, a picture of high class and prestigious.  Judah has had an affair and when this mistress threatens to ruin this perfect image, Judah’s ego cannot allow it.  He hires an assassin and has the woman killed, suiting Judah’s desire to squelch the chances that his world will come crashing down around him.  Instead of thinking of the consequences of murder, Judah thinks only of himself and the threat a mistress poses to his picture perfect marriage and professional reputation.  He struggles with guilt for some time, but eventually resigns to allow that guilt to pass so that he go on living as if nothing horrible has happened.  This conflict creates a dilemma for the audience.  One would question whether a man who has been involved with murder might ever truly return to living comfortably, without thought for his sin.

The egoist murderers in American Psycho and There Will Be Blood possess a detachment and lack of emotion that chills the audience and causes one to assess what exactly it is that drives a man to kill and remain outwardly pleased with his acts.  In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is a successful businessman living in the 1980’s, an era of self indulgence and one in which image is paramount.  The story is told from the point of view of the killer, Patrick Bateman, whose narration of his egotistical habits is incessant. This point of view is like that of Poe and Dostoevsky’s works that allow the audience a very personal look at the mind of the killer. Bateman lives his life as a shell of a man, a hollow being with no emotion, and no one knows that he sadistically and methodically murderers multiple people.  Bateman’s ability to kill people without reason or provocation and the personal pleasure he derives from these acts shows the audience just how narcissistic and maniacal a man can be, possibly even more so than in movies in which motivations are clear.

There are several deaths in the film There Will Be Blood, yet the murder that occurs in the last act of the film is most perplexing and interesting in relation to reason and ego.  The character of Plainview has been listening to Eli, an evangelical speaker, plead for help with finance.  Plainview decides to force Eli to confess being a false prophet and then proceeds to beat Eli to death with a bowling pin. Immediately following the beating, Plainview walks away without regard for the mess he has made in his own bowling alley.  He is so self absorbed that he does not even see past his own thoughts to realize that he just killed a man in his own home.  In this case, Plainview’s ego took over for reason, and Plainview chose to humiliate Eli before killing him rather than allowing him to speak any longer, thereby expressing power over Eli and Eli’s ego. This scene concludes the story, leaving the audience to once again ponder a man’s ability to do such heartless things and then just walk away nonchalantly. Or does he suffer after the credits roll?

The murders and respective perpetrators of film and literature mimic and draw upon reality as the author’s imagination is sparked by murders of the past and present.  News and media coverage of the details of murder become fuel and food for the mind of a crime writer.  Like study of literature or film, real life murders are studied by various people; to learn about the suspects, solve cases, or for future preparation.  In a study by psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, of various kinds of murderers, the twisted nature of the minds and souls of the killers became the focus.  Her study is the topic of a Washington Post article by Richard Leiby, who deduces that:

“In another category are those latent maniacs who get mired in frustrating circumstances, spiral into failure after failure, and finally snap.  To embrace wanton murder and terrorism, though, they seem to require one more element; ideology.  It fuels their sickness and makes them feel more grandiose.  They act in the name of God, or revolution, or whatever.”

The idea that the murderer’s egos are actually fueled or even reignited by the murders they commit is something that gives depth to the people who commit these crimes.  Leiby’s article describes cases in which murders are viewed as purely motivated by evil.  The murderer’s eyes and actions give away their innermost attitudes and disregard for human life.  The description in the above quote is applicable to the specific murderers that exist today as well as those found in fiction.  Raskolnikov’s failures in life lead him to a path of redemption, in his mind, through murder.  The ideologies of Montressor, Judah, Bateman, and Plainview are expressed in the nature of their murders as well as their reasoning for doing the crimes.  Bateman’s cool exterior and unwavering eyes portray pure evil to the audience.

By scrutinizing the murderers in various literature and film texts, a common denominator becomes apparent.  Each of the murderers possesses a sense of self-involvement and egoism. All feel that they have something to prove or an image to maintain. The murder in each fictional setting is given depth and dimension through his respective ideologies and the thoughts that drive him to murder. Like non-fictional murderers, these characters are fully developed beings that have egos that have been fractures, crushed, or even exploded to vast proportions that are fed by their acts of violence.  In the two examples of literature, by Poe and Dostoevsky, murderers feel their own self images are worth more than the lives of their victims; Montressor has been insulted and Raskolnikov challenges his own fear of insignificance and emasculation. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Judah’s ego overrules his intelligence and his mistress pays the price.  In American Psycho, Bateman finds pleasure in killing and his picturesque appearance shows no traces of the blood he sheds.  Finally, in There Will Be Blood, the ending scene depicts a brutal murder with a bowling pin inside the mansion of the deranged and egotistical murderer. Although the murders are different in form and detail, all of the men are egoists in their own right.  Analysis and character study establishes a common thread, egoism, which may be seen in murderers regardless of motivation or apparent absence of it.

American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale. Lions Gate Entertainment. 2000. Film.

Crimes and Misdemeanors. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Martin Landau. Orion Pictures. 1989. Film.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Vintage Classics, 1993. Print.

Leiby, Richard. “The Warped MindOr Warped Soul at The Heart of a Killer:[Final Edition].”    Washington Post. 26 October 2002: C.01. ProQuest. Web. 16 April 2010.

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Literature and Its Writers. Fourth Edition. Ed. Charters, Ann, Charters, Samuel. Boston: Beford/St. Martin’s. 2007. 490-95. Print.

Seven. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey. New Line Cinema. 1995. Film.

There Will Be Blood. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson. Perf. Daniel Day Lewis. Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films. 2007. Film.

Fitzgerald and Freud

•03/14/2010 • Leave a Comment

I have finished reading This Side of Paradise and have a renewed fascination with Fitzgerald. I read his work before but failed to realize the extent to which he has mastered words and syntax.  Some of the sentences were like poetry (outside of the actual poetry, of course.)  Fitzgerald’s writing in this book brought complex language as poetry to the forefront of my mind.   I enjoyed this little novella and I also grew to like Amory for as he grew and his ability to love blossomed, he became a much more likable character.

I noticed from the beginning the links to our discussions on Freud’s Oedipus Complex Theory, to Raskolnikov’s character in Crime and Punishment, Phillip Roth and Woody Allen.  As Amory, developes, he works through stages of Freudian development that he was lacking in his childhood. Amory’s relationship with his mother and the absence of his father set him up for a strong Oedipus complex, and the mother’s actions and words only exacerbated that.  She put him upon a pedestal just as Roth described in Portnoy’s Complaint and as Allen exhibited in Annie Hall. But, in going away to school and growing up Amory looses that connection and eventually sees his mother in a different light.   Amory’s discussion with his fellow classmate, Burne, about criminals brings Raskolnikov’s theories to mind. Amory’s lack of true connection with women and his tendency towards seeing only his own reflection in a woman is another characteristic of Allen’s characters in more than one of his films.  The ties to all of the class material so far are creating a grander picture of the formation of Woody Allen as a creator of all types of media.