Phew, it’s finally the end credits, this is such a relief, this is just a film after all! Or not? Some movies are so disturbing that you are glad that they have finally come to an end. But what if some of them do NOT find closure after the lights go on? Some characters in such films are so strong that they refuse to cease to exist. Instead they acquire a life of their own, either through the soul of the poor actor who impersonated them in the movie, or through a gullible and easily impressionable fan.
From Hithcock to Fassbinder, from the United States to Brazil, from horror to sexual liberation, sometimes fiction just wants to become reality. These characters are shining examples of anti-mimesis, a philosophical stance in the direct opposition to Aristotelian mimesis (the representation of the self through art). Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”.
So next time you watch a jarring film and encounter a mighty or threatening character, don’t simply dismiss them as fictional. In fact, they might be waiting for you just around the corner. Or worse still, they might be living inside of you, dorment, just waiting for the right moment to bust out of your chest, kill you and take over your reality. Ouch, cinema can hurt!!!
1. Norman Bates in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
The crossdressing and incentuous mommy’s boy Norman Bates was played by Anthony Perkins, who also had serious mental health issues and a split personality – as he attempted to fight his homosexuality. Perkins was deeply closeted, self-hating and subjected himself to a series of psychiatric attempts in order to “cure” his same-sex attraction. He even used electroshock aversion therapy, precisely at the moment the gay liberation movement was smashing LGBT taboos. The knife in the famous shower sequence was replaced by an electroconvulsive therapy machine in real life, and both the victim and the perpetrator were Perkins himself. He died of Aids-related pneumonia in 1992, after living a life as lonely and dysfunctional as Norman Bates.
DMovies does not perceive homosexuality as a disease, and instead we celebrate sexual diversity. Perkins’s egodystonic attitude towards his sexuality represents the dysfunctional element here.
2. Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Ted Levine should have received a Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, the twisted serial killer who skins females and dances in front of the mirror with his penis stuck between his legs, concocting a mock-vagina. His character was so controversial that, besides copious amounts of hate mail from across the world, the movie role offers largely became scarce. Most significantly, the habit of watching copious amounts of hardcore pornography for the role took a psychological toll on the man whose friends and co-workers describe as “the nicest guy you will ever meet”. Could the perverted crossdresser eventually take over Levine’s life?
3. Armin Meier in Germany in Autumn (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)
The West German omnibus film about the 1970s terrorist incidents known as German Autumn is composed of contributions from different filmmakers, including the enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The controversial director opted to show terrorism within a domestic environment: his very own house. He documents his stormy and abusive relationship with his mother Lilo Pompeit and his partner Armin Meier. The latter killed himself after not being invited to Fassbinder’s 33rd birthday party, shortly after the film was completed. Meier’s body was later found in Fassbinder’s apartment, the same one as in the movie.
Most of Fassbinder’s films did not have credits in the end, suggesting that the director did not want to separate fiction from reality. Such a harsh world mandates harsh cinema. Or is it the other way around?
4. Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
The Italian director confessed that the rape sequence in this famous sexual liberation movie was non-consensual in an interview three years ago. He then tried to play it down by arguing that only the butter element wasn’t disclosed in the film script, but that Schneider was aware of the violence all along. One way or another, there was at least one non-consensual element in the sequence. The impact on Schneider’s life was tremendous. The French artist never again filmed another sex scene and she suffered from depression until her untimely death to cancer in 2011, suggesting that the butter rape indeed afflicted the woman for the rest of her life – click here for more about the infamous event.
5. Fernando Ramos Da Silva in Pixote (Hector Babenco, 1980)
Possibly the most subversive Brazilian film ever made, Pixote is a riveting documentary-like account of Brazil’s delinquent youth and how they are used by corrupt police and other crime organizations to commit crimes. The film featured Fernando Ramos da Silva as Pixote at the age of just 12 and the veteran Brazilian actress Marília Pêra as the prostitute Sueli (both pictured below). Despite the director’s financial support, Ramos da Silva went back to a life of crime and poverty a few years after the film was completed. He was killed at the age of 19 by the same police which he tried to evade in the movie.
6. Chucky in Child’s Play (Jack Bender, 1991)
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were 10 years old when they kidnapped, tortured brutally murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool, in 1993, Thompson and Venables snatched the toddler from a shopping mall and took him to a railway line where they beat and sexually assaulted the young boy. They left Bulger’s mutilated body on the railway tracks to die. The case shocked Britain due to the level of sadism and young age of the murderers. Thompson and Venables were supposedly inspired by the evil toy Chucky in the horror film Child’s Play 3, which they watched shortly before the murder.
7. Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)
Stone’s controversial satirical crim film has been associated with several serial killers, including the homicidal couple Sarah Edmonson and Benjamin Darras. In 1995, the murderous duo dropped LSD and watched Natural Born Killers repeatedly before going on a drug-fueled crime spree of robbing and shooting a convenience store clerk that left her a quadriplegic. During the crime spree, Darras shot and killed a Mississippi businessman. Edmonson was sentenced to 35 years in prison, while Darras is doing a life sentence. They were attempting the emulate the murderous couple in the ultra-violent flick.
Such dangerous fiction can have loud reverberations into reality. Sometimes it’s be best to build a very tall and robust fourth wall keeping fiction where it belongs. But just how do we stop a character from jumping it?