17 jun. 2015

The Insane and inhumane: A view of psychopaths in Kubrick’s films

The dark side of man has awaken the creativity of screenwriters and film makers. Movies about ordinary citizens transforming into murderers, mad men (not the advertising kind) and  socio paths,  seem to delight  and puzzle audiences. Horror and mystery films portraying the metamorphosis of the human mind, have become film classics and  great ticket sellers. American director Stanley Kubrick has explored  the theme from different perspectives in his movies  Paths of Glory (POG), Lolita , Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), The Clockwork Orange (CWO) and with full force in The Shining (TS).   Influential members of society -as well as regular people- are portrayed as emotionally unstable capable of terrifying behaviors and crimes. Because  I'm only dealing with the inhumane, I have not included the Computer HAL 9000 from the movie 2001 Space Odyssey, which also presents all the emotional and psychological symptoms of a troubled being.                                                                                                                                               Modern medicine has labeled them sociopaths, and  in some acute cases, psychopaths. Psychiatrists  describe psychopaths as individuals who have no sense of right and wrong; they are oblivious of reasoning and rationality; no guilt. They are inclined  to lying, cheating and engaging in reprehensible activities. Psychopaths are unable to understand the consequences of their behavior and they talk  their way out of trouble with elaborated defenses or excuses. They all lack love and empathy. They recognize no flaw in their behavior and no need for change. Male psychopaths outnumber female five  to one. There she is, misunderstood Lolita, right next to Alex (CWO), General Mireau (POG), Humbert, Private Leonard (JMJ) and Jack Torence (TS).
The psychopath has no ability to place himself in  someone's else shoes and does not feel sorry for the less fortunate. This is the case of Alex  Delarge (Malcolm McDowell) (Fig. 2) in The Clockwork Orange. He is confident, handsome, in control, fashionable, free and fearless. He is also a lier, self center, uses violence,  attacks the innocent,  fights, steals,  rapes; still he feels no regrets and   denies responsibility for his crimes.  He is  prosecuted, charged  and later, he  volunteers to a psychoanalytical experiment to  resolve the crime problem in society. Once in jail he becomes a model prisoner and deceives into making authority believe, that he is a changed man. Other emotionally unstable characters in the same film presenting  psychopath characteristics are, the government minister having no concern for the wellbeing of prisoners and the police interrogator who enjoys torturing Alex. Ironically at the end, Alex is "cured" under government auspices and begins a new career in government service.
Dominance, power and manipulation are recurring themes in the social relations of psychopaths. All the characters listed fall into this category. Alex manipulates, dominates his friends emotionally  and his victims, sexually. Lolita also uses sexuality to manipulate Humbert. Jack terrorizes his family through control and fear. General Mireau uses his superior  power to dominate. Usually generals and military personal are portrayed in movies as respected members of society; heroes. Kubrick on other hand, rallies against the military with anti-war films.  
He attacks the established institutions, presenting the other  side of the coin. In the movie Paths of Glory (1957) General Mireau (George Macready) (Fig. 3) uses Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas)  to gain influence and power. He shows symptoms  of emotional instability:no empathy for the young soldier's  lives sending them to fight an impossible battle against the German Army. Later; incapable of accepting blame for his  inaptitude;  deflects attention from himself sacrificing the life of three innocent men who are  sent to the firing squad. The idea of a  psychopath characters is evident in the way the high rank military personnel comment the executed soldiers’ death  over drinks and dinner: a “magnificent, clean job," “your men died very well” and “it had to be done," showing total disregard for the young man’s lives, no guilt and no remorse.
Psychopaths are fearless and the best individuals for their valor in war, disobeying orders, risking their lives, and the life of others. In this sense  Colonel Dax could be label as a psychopath since he obeys the suicidal orders of  General Mireau.
In Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick reiterate  the training of young men. They are shaved, given nicknames, mocked and ridiculed. They  are stripped of their personalities and identities. Their empathy and soft feelings are deleted and they are reprogramed, creating  killing machines. “The creation of a perfect psychopath”, according to Kubrick. Private Leonard, better known as Gomer Pyle is the perfect example. A humble man, turned into a monster. The rest of the soldiers, are harden and ready for war. They receive the most inhumane treatment and this training back fires. Animal mother, is another character that complements the idea. Institutions that are supposed to help men grow and develop as responsible, independent and productive citizens, have abused them, turning them   emotional and intellectually dependent. They loose their identity and even their will to live. Private Gomer Pyle goes insane and commits suicide. 
The portrayal of female characters as psychopaths is less usual than men characters. Stanley  Kubrick’s Lolita (Sue Lyon) (fig. 4), is the portrait of a lier, manipulative, self center young lady, who plays a game of seduction and rejection very pleasing for her. She lacks  empathy for those around, -including her mother- and  she gets total satisfaction  rejecting and humiliating his step father Humbert, in a very cynical, cruel manner, stating her emotional dominance, sexual power and castrating attitude towards men. Lolita is the portrait of  a psychopath. Other unstable characters are, Clare Quilty played by Peter Sellers as well as Humbert Humbert played by James Mason They kill  each other  over Lolita’s  love and attention.
Kubrick’s portrayal of psychopathic characters developed over the years. It started with emotionally unstable characters and ended with a family murderer such as Jack Torrence in The Shining,  a movie that redefined the concept of horror film. Jack  is a regular guy, a writer a family man with good intentions. Later in the film he displays all psychopathic features. He terrorizes his family, and can also be charming at times just like Alex and Lolita.  In fact he turns his psychopathic symptoms into a full blown schizophrenic frenzy. 
Stanley Kubrick’s films  The Clockwork Orange, Paths of Glory, Lolita, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining criticize society’s view of the psychopath as an alien to our perfect world. In general Kubrick questions the double standard society we live in and proposes a more insightful look at ourselves and our emotional beings. The imperfection of man, his flaws, his tragedies. He also  emphasizes  the roll that influential institutions like the military play  in creating victims/patients out of  ordinary men. He denounces moral insanity, more than mental insanity.

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