Saturday, February 9, 2013

Science Saturday: I, Psychopath

My friend Theophanes  pointed me in the direction of the Australian filmmaker Ian Walker's documentary I, Psychopath. Walker follows and films Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed narcissist and potential psychopath, all over Europe, to study Vaknin's brain and personality. It's in ten minute clips on YouTube, but they are all readily available (and in order):

The good: I, Psychopath is well-paced and interesting.

The bad: They (deliberately, it seems) play fast and loose with "narcissist" and "psychopath," switching between the two with ease despite them being vastly different psychological concerns. Not surprising, since "psychopath" is much more of a hook than "narcissist."

Some of the film affects were also a bit cheesy and dated—wait for the CGI angel to float around in the green screen landscape behind Vaknin during voice over parts.

Also, as frustrating as working with Vaknin must have been for Walker, in places there is a lot of melodramatic, cringe-inducing "woe is me!" editorializing.

One interesting fact: A common trait among psychopaths is that they lack the neural capacity to process fear in the same way most people do. Evolutionary psychologists argue that fear is the beginning of empathy (to want to keep something bad from happening to other people, we need to first understand how bad feels by imagining how bad it would be for ourselves), and that without that fear it's much more difficult—almost impossible—to have a real sense of empathy.

Would recommend? Sure. There is definitely some footage of Vaknin being absolutely vile both to his wife and to Walker, which some people might find triggering or just unpleasant. Fair warning.

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