Psychopath ~ noun
a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.
That isn’t a very satisfying definition of a psychopath. Here is a much more in depth definition from Psychology Today. Basically, a psychopath is irresponsible, charming, a liar, over confident, with narrowed attention, a lack of empathy, a lack of social emotions including guilt, selfish, and violent.
Reading that, it is difficult to understand why some of the most interesting fictional characters (The Joker immediately springs to mind) are often psychopaths. Other than the charm, there are no redeeming features. So how does one make a film about seven of them?
Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Brit Martin McDonagh, is about an alcoholic screenplay writer, Marty (Colin Farrell), who is trying to write his next movie Seven Psychopaths. He is aided by his best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), and Billy’s friend, Hans (Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans operate a dog kidnapping business and things start to go sour when Billy kidnaps the beloved dog of gangster, Charlie (Woody Harrelson).
(And I’ve just noticed that Martin wrote a screenplay about a writer called Marty…hmm…)
Before we get started, I want to say that this film is classed as a comedy. It is not a fall around laughing comedy. The humour in Seven Psychopaths is subtle, but the comedy label does mean that nothing bad happens to the dogs. As Billy says, you should never kill off the animals. Absolutely correct, Billy.
My interest in Seven Psychopaths was peaked when it was first released at the cinema. But I reasoned that it was probably a violent, gangster film and it would bore me. Plus, there are far too many good names in the cast. Usually a film has a large cast of amazing actors because the script isn’t up to much. This is not the case in Seven Psychopaths.
This film is witty, subtle and downright intelligent. The story itself is very simple, as all good stories are. But the layers to the story makes it brilliant. It is technically a story within a story, which builds gently until the middle of the film when it becomes obvious that the two stories of the film are in fact tied together. Does that sound complicated? Watch it and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
The important part of this film is the characters. All of them are excellently played, but I must admit to being rather blown away by Sam Rockwell. All of the other characters are quite straight forward. Christopher Walken’s sweet Hans with a dangerous past, Woody Harrelson’s Charlie who’s only soft spot is for his dog, and Colin Farrell’s alcoholic and rather pathetic Marty.
Marty is the only character who truly grows throughout the film, becoming more likeable as he is worn away. Billy, on the other hand, is the only character with so many layers you feel you could watch him for days. Saying that, all of the characters have depth which means that you feel empathy for each one (unless you’re a psychopath, I guess). You care about all the characters.
(I’ve just realised how shocked I am by that last statement. It’s because I’ve recently read two books and in neither did I care about any of the characters. This film was quite refreshing!)
That is what makes this film so special. Lets take The Joker, for example. I loved him, I wanted more of him, but I didn’t necessarily care about him. I didn’t sit there willing him not to die, other than for the fact that it would have meant not being able to watch him anymore. Often the psychopath is the antagonist or villain, so do we ever care if they live or die?
You do in this film. You sit there willing them to stay alive, and to be happy and to get what they want. It was something that felt quite original and unique. I would also hope that it would help viewers to question mental health and the social view of this particular state of mind.
If psychopaths are defined as lacking social emotions such as empathy, then it is very interesting to find that this film is so emotional. Not just because of the themes covered as to why some of them became how they are, or the few shocking scenes of what they are capable of, but also the depth of emotion they are capable of. Some of the scenes are down right sweet.
Perhaps that is the most shocking part of the film. That beneath the murderous, violent psychopaths are humans who love and hurt. They don’t all kill because they want to. Some do it because they must, which begs the question; which came first, the psychopath or the necessity to kill?
Seven Psychopaths is understated and intelligent brilliance. It gives a whole new view of psychopaths from the popular violent action and horror films without being too arty or boring. It remains quirky, using shocking language as well as small pieces of violence, but is in fact quite gentle in nature. As all good films should, it left me smiling and thinking…