Could you kill a person? Be honest with yourself. Under what circumstances you look a victim in the eye, and with a restrained grin squeeze the very life out of their bones?
Hopefully, the threshold one would need to pass to commit such behavior is relatively high; seeing as a drive to Walmart doesn’t typically involving passing litters and litters of dead bodies (unless you’re in Scottsdale), this is an assumption we can hold to be true. And yet, there’s a certain fascination with death in today’s society.
People seem interested in testing just where this line is, and no where is this more evident than in the movie industry. There seems to be a massive influx of movies examining the serial killer, his methods, and most importantly, his motivations.
Readers, this conversation fascinates me, especially the attempt to analyze why certain serial killers have that “Hollywood” appeal. Listed below are three of my personal favorite movie killers, and an attempt to determine what exactly makes these characters work, so to speak.
3. Jean-Baptise Grenouille
This chilling killer is the ‘protagonist’ of the novel/motion picture Perfume. The 2006 film saw Ben Whishaw as Grenouille, a peculiar man outcasted from society due to his total lack of a natural scent. While this affliction makes the public wary of him, it also gives the man an unclouded scent of smell, allowing him to become of the most skilled perfumers in 1800’s Paris. His nose is unmatched, but it soon becomes obsessed with the scent of virgins. To make a long story short, Grenouille ultimately murders several virgins in an attempt to harness their scents.
I don’t want to ruin any more of the plot for you (it’s a fantastic movie, check it out), but that brief synopsis to provide context for the reasoning behind Grenouille’s popularity. First, one must realize that while Grenouille’s acquaintances are definitely aware of his affliction, none can actually name what it is that makes them so uncomfortable. The animalistic, subconscious side of their brains recognized his lack of scent and instinctively repelled his presence, yet the jump to consciously thinking “this man has no smell” could not be made.
In reality, our serial killers have smells, and yet for many people in society, that same trigger gets flipped in their heads. It might be the killer’s personality, demeanor, or even physical appearance, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, as no one will be able to say the person makes them feel uncomfortable. They just do.
Clearly, this is a strong parallel to Grenouille’s character, and it serves to bring him to life in a way few movie killers rival. Our next entry, however, falls in a very similar vein…
2. Patrick Bateman
While Jean-Baptiste Grenouille chilled the bones of viewers in a subconscious way, our next killer, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, is slightly more recognizable. Sure, the man instills a similar sense of uneasiness, but in Bateman’s case, the source is recognizable.
If you’ve seen the movie American Psycho, you know the underlying theme of the movie is an examination of top level business culture, and that Bateman’s killings are meant to be a metaphor for the malevolent acts of actual executives.
For whatever reason, big business tends to make people uncomfortable. There’s definitely a worrisome atmosphere inherent with groups of people entirely focused on profit and advancing their careers. It is from this circle of people that Patrick Bateman originates, which means that even before the character took any lives, the everyday man has trouble identifying with him.
From there stems the similarities between Bateman and Grenouille; each comes from a place that the audience is entirely uncomfortable with, a state of mind they’ve never experienced. Perhaps it is this uncertainty that makes these characters so iconic. After all, the inability to predict an opponents next movie definitely adds suspense to a movie. On the other hand…
1. John Doe – Se7en
…we have killers like the infamous John Doe of the Fincher classic Se7en. While the origins and motives of this killer are shrouded in mystery throughout the story, the pattern of his attacks is perfectly clear to the audience (each kill mimics one of the seven deadly sins).
In this case, the audience is suspended in strange place of both knowledge and ignorance. Viewers should easily be able to recognize that each of the kills is one of the sins, as it says so in the movie, and at first this knowledge may be of some comfort. After all, knowing something about a killer’s next move is slightly better than total ignorance.
That being said, the limit of knowledge is that the killer’s next move will involve gluttony, this does basically nothing in helping prevent the murder or catch the killer. This duality is touched upon heavily throughout the movie, and it should weigh in the audience’s mind as well. After all, this knowledge really only serves to specify the fantasies the audience holds, and as any good thinker knows, fantasy can be far more gripping than reality.
We’d love to hear what you think about these killers, and whether knowing their motives or path of attack is any better than total ignorance. You can weigh in on the conversation using the comments box below!