Movies provide an escape. They’re a safe way to experience dangerous things that we could never find in our everyday lives. Or at least, we would never experience them in our lives the same way they’re experienced on screen. And that brings us to today’s article. Nobody really wants to go insane. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t give us a rush on screen when it’s not real. Here are the nine coolest examples of movie characters losing their mind.
Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher’s 90s classic is a spectacular dip into madness. The narrator, played by Edward Norton, uses a tight friendship with a suspicious, bizarre, and cool character, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), to cower from the transition from immaturity to maturity. That alone should be plenty to pique everyone’s interest. But the depths to which Norton’s character will go are both comical and deep.
Black Swan (2010)
In her intense desire to prove that she’s capable of a legendary performance, Nina Sayers goes down the rabbit hole in every lurid way possible, ultimately resulting in… well, I don’t want to spoil the movie. Let’s just say that she was willing to give up an awful lot to prove her prowess. And it was incredibly satisfying to her.
Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Sartre famously wrote that “Hell is other people.” Never is this more evident than in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. It features Max von Sydow as an artist who is slowly pushed towards insanity by his own personal demons, and his ghoulish neighbors. Throw in a rocky, secluded Swedish island landscape and you’ve got a masterpiece amongst movie characters going insane.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The irony here is that R.P. McMurphy’s descent into madness wasn’t really much of a descent at all. He was simply the wrong guy, a counter-culture icon, at the wrong time. In fact, that’s big part of what gives the film so much teeth. McMurphy could be any 1960s miscreant (the film was set in the 1960s) whose mischievous outlier behavior was rewarded with electroshock to the point of oblivion. But he sure had a blast along the way.
The Cremator (1969)
This Czech New Wave classic is about a cremator who resides in Czechoslovakia during World War II. Karl, the cremator, believes that his job- cremation- frees the souls of the dead. He becomes obsessive about his job, particularly as the Nazis get closer and closer to annexing his town. He begins the film off-kilter, channeling the eeriness of other classic weirdos like Peter Lorre. He only wobbles wildly further out of control from there, with copious visual queues indicating just how far he has escaped into his deadly philosophies. It’s all a brilliant allegory for the Soviet occupation, and director Juraj Herz executes the growing madness in a delicious and darkly humorous way.
The Shining (1980)
All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles. All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles. All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles. All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles. All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles. All work and no play make a troubled writer lose his marbles.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Any good descent into madness needs whimsy, and Carnival of Souls passes the test. The film’s title even implies whimsy, followed quickly by doom. And that’s actually a great way to describe the film, a wanna-be arthouse film made on B-movie money. It excels on the strength of some impressive and iconic imagery, some of which might keep you up late at night.
There are a lot of descents into madness that have been put to celluloid. I am 99.9999% confident that Videodrome is the only one that features a character pulling a gun out of his giant stomach-vagina. Your move, other insane movie characters.
Falling Down (1993)
Admit it. We’ve all been angry about minor transgressions, possibly even every day. We’d all love to completely Hulk out and lose our minds about it. Enter William Foster (Michael Douglas), a man who makes us cringe while serving as an avenging angel for a bunch of ultimately insignificant things, like traffic jams and incompetent fast food employees.