Can you remember the last film you watched? Did you love it or loathe it? What was it about? And what was it about it which made you want to watch it (and then maybe wished you hadn’t done that)?
Do you have a favourite movie? Why is it your favourite? Is it the story or a character in it which made it your favourite film?
Do you have a most hated film? Why is it your most hated? Was it because of the story or because of a character in it?
Regularly in the stats of my blog, the search term – films/movies about narcissists – pops up.
These days there’s at least one narcissist or very narcissistic character in every film and TV show (at least in the ones I’ve watched).
They’re often a main character, usually the villain, although in some cases it’s impossible to tell who is the villain and who isn’t.
For instance in TV shows like Billions, Blacklist, Suits, Game of Thrones, Vikings, and the pirate one… what was that called? Black Sails. Oh and Once Upon A Time, Girls, Sex and the City, all the superhero ones… those shows are chock full o’ narc nuts.
Anything about corporations, big business, big money, big power, ruling the world, Wall Street and chaebols… Korean dramas always have at least two or three narcissists (plus at least one sociopath telling his or her minions to “Kill them, and them, and them… oh, just kill them all but make it look like a truck of doom accident”) to drive you crazy.
In K dramas the male lead often starts out as a complete narcissistic a-hole, but then he falls in love with the female lead and… he’s still usually a narcissist afterwards but just not quite the way he was before now that he has her to remind him to be nicer.
Sometimes the narcissist is the hero/heroine’s sidekick who keeps getting the hero/heroine into heaps of trouble, and you keep hoping the hero/heroine is going to snap out of the spell of loyalty they have for the narckick but they wouldn’t be such a lovely hero/heroine if they kicked their narcissist friend to the curb, now would they.
Better Call Saul is a great show, and I love Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) as a character but he’s definitely a narcissist and his girlfriend keeps bailing him out over and over risking her own career, reputation and life because she loves him and if she doesn’t love him who will.
Occasionally the narcissist is the hero or heroine who may have an awakening and decide to become a better person (depends on the film genre – if it’s an Indie or Foreign movie, or a Biopic, then the character will probably remain staunchly narcissistic).
The one film with a narcissist having a change of heart and trying to make up for years of being narcissistic which comes to mind is Danny Collins (2015) with Al Pacino.
Oh, and that one I saw recently with Sherlock dude who also played a total narcissist in that Julian Assange movie (The Fifth Estate – 2013) and did that harrowing series based on the real life of the author whose father sexually abused him and whose mother pretended she didn’t know and hid from ever knowing in a spiritual retreat (Patrick Melrose – 2018). Aha… Doctor Strange (2016) – he played a narcissist who goes on a spiritual quest to save himself and ends up finding out that he’s the only one who can save the world from a greedy monster. I guess it takes one to beat one.
There’s another one which came to mind but… oh, yes, the DUDE!!! only not playing the Dude… although he was pretty much still playing the Dude. Jeff Bridges in singie thingie… Crazy Heart (2009).
Once you start thinking about certain things… there are just so many!
The Narcissist trope is a popular one, and if you’re looking to spot the narcissist in TV and Movies, here’s an excellent online How-To guide – TV Tropes: Narcissist. It gives lots of examples and links to variations on the theme, and other tropes which often tie in with the Narcissist one.
I’m going to share a few key points which TV Tropes made about narcissist characters which are also useful if you’re trying to spot real life narcissists/narcissistic characters. In the excerpts I have removed links to other TV Tropes pages, to see and follow those links you’ll need to click over to – TV Tropes: Narcissist:
The character’s personality is overtly permeated by their own grandiosity. In all their interactions with others, a pathological narcissist firmly believes themselves to be vastly superior to those around them and (more importantly) expects recognition of this “fact”.
While capable of faking humility, all narcissists are angered by the mere hint they are being denied the recognition “owed” to them.
Likewise, they deeply resent anyone who draws attention away from them or in any way encroaches on their claim of superiority.
The “extinction burst” is a well-known phenomenon when someone finally calls them out on their bullshit and makes the narcissist realize that they can no longer control them; the more arrogant and prideful examples are likely to unleash a gigantic torrent of verbal abuse, while the more depressive ones will instead launch into a massive pity party about how much worse the target has made their life, and escalations into physical attacks, scorched-earth revenge campaigns, or attention-seeking suicide attempts are not at all uncommon.– excerpt from TV Tropes: Narcissist
One of the examples which TV Tropes gives of an on-screen narcissist is Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks (1994), and they include this quote of his from the film: “What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You are here for me. You are here to protect my interests and to serve my needs.”
Of course you might not want to watch a film with Kevin Spacey starring in it. How the high and mighty fall and ruin really brilliant films for us! However, in the case of this movie, knowing what you now know about its lead actor (and the behind the scenes of Hollywood) adds to the impact of the story and his character since it’s about the film business and all the ugly people who make such pretty stories with pretty people in them (stories which often lecture all of us on morals and good behaviour).
If you’d rather watch a Documentary, I’d recommend:
What about the female of the species? Hmmm… there are just as many female narcissists in film and TV as there are male narcissists, and the females are not necessarily subtler than the males. The American Horror Story series is full of full-on female narcissists and sociopaths with narcissistic tendencies.
I often can’t watch movies and TV shows with female narcissists, particularly if they remind me of my mother and are doing the whole Covert narcissist routine. I stopped watching Breaking Bad because of Skyler White and her holier than thou saint/martyr routine (which included the behaviour in excerpt #2 below).
The character is self-absorbed to the point that they consistently prioritize their own desires at others’ expense.
Due to their grandiose sense of entitlement, narcissists have little (if any) qualms disregarding others’ needs and personal boundaries to further their goals.
If they do take someone else’s needs and desires into consideration, then it is likely an opportunity to grandstand for attention by congratulating themselves for their sheer magnanimity, or, worse, as a bargaining chip or to have something to hold over them in the future.– excerpt from TV Tropes: Narcissist
The most famous female narcissists or female sociopaths with narcissistic tendencies in films are seen in Mommie Dearest (1981), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Single White Female (1992) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
But they’re all very over the top, and real narcissists tend to be less obvious, at least to everyone except those closest to them who get to see behind the facade on a daily basis.
One of the most insightful portrayals of an ‘ordinary’ narcissist is:
For a film about an ‘ordinary’ male narcissist, which gives an insightful portrayal of the sort of person they are, why they may be that way, and how they affect everyone in their life, there’s the very excellent – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017). The narcissist in that is the father, Harold, played by Dustin Hoffman.
I wasn’t going to watch it because it had both Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller in it and they can be a tad irritating, however it’s a Noah Baumbach film and those are always brilliant wanders through the strangely comical heartache of real life.
I get the impression Noah Baumbach may have grown up with narcissists because he regularly writes them into his stories, as family members, and writes them with what feels like personal understanding and experience.
His Margot at the Wedding (2007) is superbly agonising and fascinating. The narcissist in that is Margot, played by Nicole Kidman (who has played quite a few narcissistic roles, and always acts the part very well). She’s the sister-from-hell to the main character who is trying to build a happier life for herself, but you can’t do that when you have a narcissist in your life.
The character is extremely self-conscious of how they’re perceived by others.
Despite having little regard for those around them, their peace of mind hinges on receiving recognition of their self-importance from others.
However, unlike a character with Acquired Situational Narcissism, a pathological narcissist’s grandiosity is not dependent on others’ validation. Rather, it is the fact that these characters’ egos are so inherently bloated that they perceive anything less than near-constant praise and adulation as a grievous injustice.
Consequently, these characters regularly display a glaringly low tolerance for criticism and a blatant unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes or outright wrongdoing; apologies, when they do come, are either insincere formalities or attempts to shift blame and save face, and either way are hollow and meaningless because the narcissist doesn’t actually believe that they did anything wrong, but they also know that they only stand to lose by not deigning an apology.
On the upside, a narcissist’s obsession with projecting an image of infallibility renders them capable of internalizing at least SOME set of moral guidelines.– excerpt from TV Tropes: Narcissist
One of the more intriguing films containing a narcissist who just thinks they’re the epitome of perfection and everyone else is such a stupid bore is – The Best Offer (2013).
He gets his comeuppance in such a beautifully artful manner that even he has to admit that he deserved it. This movie is wonderful at evoking the isolation of a narcissist, both internally and externally, and how much their desperate need to hang onto their superiority is an intrinsic part of their isolation.
Another good film with Geoffrey Rush (and I realise that he too has become a persona non grata because of his own time’s up behaviour) is his turn as a typical narcissist artist in the biopic – Final Portrait (2017).
Sometimes a narcissist is as talented, gifted and endowed with genius as they think they are. When they are they tend to get away with their tantrums, their abuse, their excesses, because others admire them no matter what they say and do, in fact others expect this of them and they must give their audience what is expected.
The rules which apply to others don’t apply to them because they’re above the laws of nature by which ordinary mortals have to abide.
The character has an insatiable appetite for acclaim and power.
Regardless of how much success or popularity they obtain, a narcissist’s bloated sense of entitlement will always leave their unsatisfied in the long term.
Consequently, such characters inevitably feel driven to seek out ever greater levels of self-aggrandizement.
As a result of their self-centeredness and diminished empathy, narcissists have little (if any) qualms flouting rules and personal boundaries to further such aims.– excerpt from TV Tropes: Narcissist
Therefore any films or TV shows which have a character who is a genius who demands that his or her genius must be allowed to create what it must create… they’re using the narcissist trope.
My favourite one is a South Korean Horror film about really cute children who lure adults to their gingerbread cottage and keep them captive:
I know I’ve forgotten to mention so many films and TV shows I’ve watched where there’s been a character who has made me think: “OMG that’s such a perfect example of a narcissist and narcissistic traits and behaviours”.
And I’m sure once I press publish on this post they’ll all come flooding into my mind like a tidal wave…
But those characters and stories which to me are a perfect example of a narcissist may not be right for you. You might not see what I see. We’re all different and so are our narcissists, and our personal experiences of them.
It depends very much on what you’re looking for when searching for – a film/movie about narcissists.
Are you looking for a fictionalised version of your own story with a narcissist, perhaps to better understand what happened to you, why they did what they did to you, and other things along those lines.
Or perhaps you want to see an extreme example of a narcissist, who is over the top, gone completely rogue, wild, insane… so that you can maybe feel a bit better about your narcissist, oh, y’know, they’re not so bad, I can deal with their shit at least I’m not trapped in a cabin with them during a snow storm. Misery (1990) or The Hateful Eight (2015).
Or maybe you want to see them get their comeuppance Hollywood style and have the smug wiped off their face.
Maybe you’d like it if once, just once, the narcissist said sorry and meant it. Your narcissist is never going to say it without an ulterior motive and they won’t mean it (other than – I’m sorry you weren’t as stupid as I wanted you to be or I’m sorry you caught me)… but surely in films and TV shows someone has written a script where the narcissist genuinely, authentically and mindfully apologises to all of the people they hurt, ruined, effed over. It might give you some vicarious closure.
Is there perhaps an ending where those abused by the narcissist character come out of the relationship intact, not having to piece themselves together like a puzzle which has too many pieces missing.
Or maybe what you’re wondering is – why do narcissists exist and what is their purpose? Perchance you’ve noticed how narcissistic society in general seems to be and… what caused this? Is there a way to reverse it?
This is an interesting possible answer to the previous paragraph’s questions:
I wonder if all of these films and TV shows which use the Narcissist trope and which may be subliminally influencing us are making us more or less narcissistic?
I’m going to go with less narcissistic since they’re also consciously making us more aware of the kind of behaviour and treatment which we don’t like to receive and thus don’t want to give to others either. It’s clarifying for us who we do not want to be to others, and whom we don’t want others to be to us. That’s a good thing, right?
While I can be very cynical… I think sometimes being naive works better.
Whatever it is that you’re looking for, I wish you all the best in finding it. You’ll find it or… it will find you – recognising that you’ve found each other is another matter. It always takes me a while to go… Oh… there you are!
That’s it from me… over to you!