Narcissism, a term rooted in the Greek mythology of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection, has found its place in the pantheon of cinematic character studies. From the darkly obsessed lover in Fatal Attraction to the vain stepmother in Snow White, several movies have explored the destructive nature of narcissists.
In this blog post, we will delve into how these movies portray the impact of narcissists on relationships, the consequences of an unchecked ego, and how societal factors may be enabling these destructive narcissistic traits.
Narcissism’s Impact on Relationships and Family Dynamics
The Unsettling Reality of Gaslighting in “Gaslight”
The psychological thriller Gaslight, directed by George Cukor in 1944, stands as a seminal film in the study of narcissistic abuse on screen. The movie showcases a textbook example of gaslighting, where the male protagonist, in a quest to obscure his own misdeeds, manipulates his wife into questioning her sanity.
This method of psychological manipulation, where the abuser seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a person’s perception of reality, is effectively portrayed in the film through the gradual unraveling of the wife’s confidence under the calculated schemes of her husband.
The term “gaslighting” has evolved directly from this film, cementing its place in the vernacular to describe this type of ‘crazy-making’ abuse, signaling the start of a broader societal recognition of this insidious form of psychological manipulation that persists in relevance to this day.
The Stepmother’s Vanity in Snow White
The archetypal tale of Snow White presents a classic portrayal of narcissism through the character of the jealous stepmother. Her obsession with beauty and control leads her to attempt murder, showcasing the potential for narcissism to cause catastrophic harm within a family setting.
Several movies have covered this story, with the following two being the most well known.
‘Mirror Mirror‘ (2012), directed by Tarsem Singh, presents a comical and whimsical portrayal of Snow White (played by Lily Collins) and the envious queen, Clementianna (Julia Roberts). Despite mixed reviews, the film managed to pull in a substantial $183,018,522 worldwide.
‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘ (2012), takes a darker route, highlighting Snow White’s struggle against the malevolent Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). The movie was a commercial success, grossing $401.3 million worldwide, notwithstanding the mixed reviews it garnered.
‘Grimm’s Snow White’ (2012) and ‘Blancanieves’ (2012) also provided fresh perspectives on the Snow White mythos, although both films received negative to mixed reviews.
Each movie presents a unique portrayal of Snow White and her narcissistic stepmother, emphasizing the theme of maternal jealousy and the perception of daughters as rivals. This narrative choice showcases a range of characters, from whimsical to sinister, and reinforces the enduring relevance of this timeless fairy tale.
Dangerous Obsession in Fatal Attraction
Directed by Adrian Lyne in 1987, Fatal Attraction became a cultural phenomenon and a talking point for its portrayal of a disturbing romantic entanglement. It explores the harrowing consequences when narcissistic obsession, from someone who initially comes across as being extremely charming, crosses the line into possessiveness and violence.
The film features Michael Douglas as Dan Gallagher, the family man entrapped by his own infidelity, and Glenn Close as Alex Forrest, whose performance masterfully captures the terrifying escalation of a spurned lover’s rage. Anne Archer, who portrays Dan’s unsuspecting wife Beth, further adds to the tension as the stakes become perilously personal.
The stellar casting and Lyne’s tense direction brought the film critical acclaim and box office success, cementing its place in cinematic history.
Glenn Close’s character, Alex Forrest, exemplifies the profound sense of entitlement that is characteristic of narcissistic individuals who refuse to accept rejection or denial of their desires.
As the movie progresses, Alex becomes increasingly aggressive and dangerous. Her chilling progression to violence is a cinematic illustration of “narcissistic rage“: an intense, often destructive reaction fueled by the wounded ego of a narcissist when they face opposition or loss of control.
The Maternal Monster in Mommie Dearest
Mommie Dearest , a biographical drama released in 1981, paints a chilling picture of narcissism in the guise of motherhood. Based on the memoir of the same name by Christina Crawford, it exposes the tumultuous and abusive relationship between the actress Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter.
Joan Crawford, portrayed by Faye Dunaway, is the epitome of a narcissistic parent, whose obsession with perfection and control often manifests in emotionally and physically abusive behaviors.
The film’s most famous scene, where Crawford berates her daughter over the use of wire hangers, has become emblematic of the extreme measures a narcissist might take to ensure dominance and attention.
Mommie Dearest not only offers a dramatic portrayal of narcissistic abuse within the family but also invites a broader dialogue about the often hidden dynamics of family dysfunction.
The Duality of Perfection in Black Swan
Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror film of 2010, provides a haunting depiction of the search for artistic perfection and the destruction it can wreak upon the self.
The protagonist, Nina, played with exquisite fragility by Natalie Portman, exhibits symptoms of narcissism that are deeply intertwined with her pursuit of the ideal performance.
In her dual role as the White Swan and the Black Swan in a New York City ballet company’s production of Swan Lake, Nina embodies a duality that represents not just the purity and innocence of the White Swan but also the sensuality and aggression of the Black Swan.
The pressure to personify both flawlessly leads her into a downward spiral of self-obsession, hallucination, and a competitive paranoia that strains her personal and professional relationships.
The film delves into the psyche of a character whose narcissism, fueled by the high stakes of artistic endeavor and an oppressive mother figure, unfolds in a harrowing tale of psychological unraveling.
The Calculated Charisma of “Gone Girl”
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and released in 2014, offers a gripping exploration into the mind of Amy Elliott-Dunne, a character whose intricate manipulation and self-fictionalization exhibit strong elements of narcissism.
Influenced by decades of living up to the ‘Amazing Amy’ persona, her parents’ fictional counterpart, the real Amy crafts a life and a reality that is equally curated. The film dissects her complex psychological state, gaining momentum as her plans for revenge against her husband unfold.
Amy’s calculated use of her charm and intelligence to control and deceive reflects a clinical narcissism which is both chilling and fascinating. This narrative weaves in heavy media scrutiny and the power of public perception, creating a modern tale where narcissism is amplified and distorted within the echo chamber of a voyeuristic society, thus providing an unsettling commentary on the extremes of cultivating a self-image.
The Downfall of Narcissists in these Movies
These movies portray narcissists as architects of their own downfall. Their relentless pursuit of self-interest eventually leads to isolation and the crumbling of the world they’ve tried to control.
The obsessions of the narcissists in these movies is detailed meticulously, leading us through a narrative journey of tension, conflict, and catharsis as they face the inevitable consequences of their actions.
The portrayal of narcissists in these movies not only provides stirring drama but also allows for profound character studies. It invites us to examine deeper societal messages about the individual versus the collective, the cost of unchecked ambition, and the fine line between confidence and detrimental self-obsession.
Through these characters’ journeys, these movies offer both cautionary tales and discussions on the nature of the relationship of narcissists with self-love and ego.
Carla Corelli, a writer, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse, draws from her own upbringing with a narcissistic father to shed light on psychological trauma. Fueled by her personal journey, she pursued a degree in psychology and has dedicated herself to shedding light on the complexities of narcissistic abuse.
With over fifteen years of experience in writing and advocating for survivors, Carla is deeply committed to providing support, education, and empowerment to those who have endured similar trauma. Through her articles, Carla aims to offer a compassionate space for healing and growth, while advocating for greater awareness and understanding of narcissistic abuse.
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