The Portrayal of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Movies

Many film directors turn to narcissism in order to create characters that arouse the viewer's curiosity. Furthermore, these personalities often serve as a catalyst for the introduction of shocks and surprises in the plot lines.
The Portrayal of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Movies
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Psychological disorders have always been a good source of inspiration for the big screen. They allow for exciting plots and twists that, without a doubt, arouse the interest of the viewer. However, how does narcissistic personality disorder tend to be presented in the movies?

Many directors have turned to topics of this type for cultural, social, or reflective reasons. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably seen a movie yourself at some time or another that deals with a narcissistic personality. Nevertheless, you may not know what the exact features of this disorder actually are. In this article, we’re going to talk about some examples of movies that offer a more specific understanding.

Narcissistic personality disorder

This particular personality disorder is characterized by people who demand a lot of attention from others. In addition, they tend to lack open-mindedness when it comes to reconciling their interests with those of others. This is known as an egocentric attitude.

In addition, this type of personality is a potential generator of conflicts. Their insecurity is expressed through a search for prominence, regardless of the consequences. At the same time, these people are usually extremelyy sensitive to criticism and feel frustrated when they don’t achieve what they set out to do.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

-Albert Einstein-

The portrayal of narcissistic personality disorder in movies

This is an interesting subject since there are so many possibilities that the condition offers when it comes to portraying interesting situations or characters. Let’s take a look at some of the movies in which narcissistic personality disorder has been portrayed.

  • The movie, Vanilla Sky, by Cameron Crowe, has a dark and unique plot. David clearly suffers from a self-esteem disorder fraught with narcissism. In reality, he doesn’t accept the conditions that others put on him. Furthermore, he can’t tolerate being in a position below others.
  • Another example is American Psycho, by Mary Harron. In this story, Patrick Bateman is a psychopathic narcissist who’s a member of the social elite. He continually seeks physical and personal perfection, filling his inner emptiness with a false outward appearance. This leads him to commit crimes without remorse.
  • The Paramedic has recently been shown on Netflix and proved extremely popular. The director, Carles Torras, tells the story of a narcissist named Ángel who, after suffering a serious accident, remains in a wheelchair. However, he subjects his ex-girlfriend to a life of hell by becoming a compulsive attention seeker, hence satisfying his emotional needs.

Narcissism according to Woody Allen

One director who’s renowned for the most precision in the psychological construction of his characters is Woody Allen. He approaches narcissism with a picaresque touch, mixing drama and comedy. This is reflected in the movie, Midnight in Paris, where self-centeredness and arrogance predominate.

Allen contemplates love from a narcissistic point of view, where romanticism is idealized within the hedonistic and enamored city of Paris. Sarcasm and the ability to live with strong emotions are also represented. Therefore, we might say that psychology and cinema are closely related.

Characters with narcissistic personality disorder

Some movies focus on narcissistic behavior at a generic level. Nevertheless, it’s usually specific characters who exhibit this disorder, whether they’re protagonists or supporting characters. Some examples can be found in fantasy films. For example, Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man or Jonah Jameson in Spiderman.
Narcissistic people need to be admired according to the renowned psychoanalyst Otto Friedemann Kernberg. Sometimes, they have to demand that attention or, at others, it simply comes naturally to them. This can be evidenced in The Wolf of Wall Street.

In short, this disorder has become a benchmark for many screenwriters and directors. Indeed, they turn to psychology as a source of inspiration for the creation of many of their productions.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.