This weekend I took a look at personality disorders, as portrayed by Hollywood. I watched the movie Seven Psychopaths. Then I watched the first four episodes of the teen TV series, Twisted. The movie continued the grand Hollywood tradition of equating psychopathy with murder and mayhem. The TV show was surprisingly perceptive in portraying an adolescent who might be a budding sociopath.
I was shocked to discover that Seven Psychopaths is described as a “British crime comedy.” (Read the plot summary on Wikipedia.) The movie is not funny, unless multiple cold-blooded murders makes you laugh. In my opinion, this movie is stupid.
The premise is that a struggling screenwriter, Marty Faranan, has come up with a title for a movie, “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem is that he doesn’t know any psychopaths, so he’s having trouble writing the script. Then he meets or hears stories about a series of psychopaths. They’re all murderers. Sometimes they have reasons for committing murder, sometimes mere excuses. In any event, the movie depicts bloody killing after bloody killing. It’s tiresome.
One of the psychopaths turns out to be Marty’s best friend, Billy Bickle. There are a few flashes of accuracy in the portrayal of this character, especially when he’s more interested in drama than living. But another psychopath, Zachariah Rigby, carries a pet white rabbit with him everywhere he goes. That’s not typical psychopathic behavior.
Oh yeah, this movie is supposed to be a comedy. It’s not. The truth is that Seven Psychopaths is nothing but a waste of time.
Twisted is currently running on the ABC Family channel. (Interestingly, this network was founded as an extension of Pat Robertson’s TV ministry, but has since been sold several times.) The show was originally titled “Socio,” as in sociopath, but at some point that name was changed to “Twisted.”
Twisted is based on a three kids, Danny Desai, Jo Masterson and Lacey Porter, who were inseparable childhood friends. But when Danny was 11 years old, he was charged with murdering his aunt and spent five years in juvenile detention. Now 16, he’s been released and has returned to high school. Danny tries to reunite with his friends, and he tries to fit in among the students. Most of the other kids don’t want anything to do with him. They give him a nickname — “Socio.”
Then another high school student ends up murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on Danny. One of his former friends, Jo, believes that Danny is innocent. Lacy isn’t sure. And neither am I — which is why I think this show is good.
Defining the disorder
When it comes to explaining and portraying sociopathy, Twisted gets it right. There is a scene in the first episode in which Danny and Jo are in psychology class, and a student calls Danny “Socio.” Paraphrasing the dialog, the teacher asks, “What is a sociopath?”
One smart-ass kid responds, “Someone who wakes up each morning in a pool of blood?”
The teacher says, “Actually, most sociopaths never kill anyone. They can’t be bothered with the mess. So what is a sociopath?”
Jo answers, “Someone without a conscience or empathy.”
The teacher replies, “That’s right. Most sociopaths don’t feel empathy or emotions, but they are very good at mimicking them.”
Give the girl, the teacher and the scriptwriter an A+. I couldn’t believe that this teen drama accurately described sociopathy, when most movies and crime shows get it wrong.
Danny Desai does exhibit some traits of a sociopath. He’s charismatic and charming. He’s manipulative. He lies easily. He is sometimes violent. But did he actually kill both his aunt and the high school girl? There could be other suspects, and so far, the show has not revealed the answer.
Most reviewers of the show focus on Danny’s good looks or the “teen angst” angle. The Los Angeles Times wrote,
So is Danny truly a sociopath? If he isn’t, then who is? And do we honestly care?
There is something queasy, but also ingenious about tagging the “hero” with such a blatant past. Still, “Twisted” isn’t “Bates Motel,” or even “Pretty Little Liars,” though in many ways it wants to be. A cynic might think “Twisted” is a bald attempt to capitalize on the success of “Pretty Little Liars” while possibly adding a Y chromosome to the mix. The non-cynic might see in Danny yet another metaphor for the alienation and “otherness” many teens feel.
Twisted is intriguing, and I’m curious to see what happens. I can’t imagine that the show will actually reveal its main character, Danny, to be a murderer. In any event, Twisted is already doing a huge public service — providing young people with some accurate information about sociopathic behavior.
If you want to watch the show, I recommend starting with the first episode — it’s available on Comcast OnDemand until tomorrow. Here are more video links:
Twisted recap, on ABCFamily.go.com.