The Top Ten Insane Non-Killer Movie Characters

Filed under: — Darren Seeley on August 9th, 2008 07:08:41 am

The Top Ten Insane Non-Killer Movie Characters There seems to be a “Top Ten” list of everything these days, so I figure one more isn’t going to hurt anyone. In this category I have chosen : The The Top Ten Insane Non-Killer Movie Characters. This excludes the homicidal such as Hannibal Lector, and Michael Myers of Halloween, as well as characters pretending to be insane. Or suicide, such as Billy from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. By ‘insane’ I mean mentally ill on a psychiatric or mentally troubled level. The characters would have be seeing a therapist or under the supervision of a group of therapists. As with all lists of any kind, it is all subjective.

Starting from “10” to “1”:

lostangels.jpg10) Tim Doolan (Adam Horovitz) in Lost Angels:
A wild and out of control youth, Tim Doolan suffers both from peer pressure from his half-brother, who is involved in a ‘white boys gang’ named DAB (Dead At Birth) which ‘copies’ and gets into fights with Latino gangs, and most notably, depression and withdrawal due to his parent’s divorce and anger towards each other. His mother and his rich, snobby stepfather lie to him as they literally dump him in a teen mental institution. While not “insane”, his rebellious nature subsides during the course of the film, as he learns responsibility, being accountable, and who his real friends are. The film itself, directed by Hugh Hudson, is one of my favorite films of the late 80’s.

9) Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) in Requiem For A Dream:
Sometimes people go insane due to the drugs that they take, even the illegal ones. While in general terms Darren Antofsky’s film was a trip all it itself, Ellen Burstyn gets a special nod because I did remember that old wive’s tale regarding the dangers of LSD and other drugs (The guy who thought he was an orange and thought people were going to eat him-anyone remember that story? I recalled a bit of that when Sara’s frige tried to munch on her.) but the fact of the matter is when people are on something, they aren’t themselves. As trippy as the film was, I consider this part and the depiction of Sara winding up in a catatonic state in the mental ward horrifying.

8} Parry (Robin Williams) in The Fisher King:
One of two entries for me that feature a character in a film directed by Terry Gilliam. In this picture, Parry is a sane man, a professor who suffers from a emotional breakdown when his wife is gunned down in front of him. The killer was indirectly goaded to kill by a shock jock (played by Jeff Bridges). Years later, Parry, now homeless and insane, slowly comes back into society after coincidentally saving the life of the same DJ. He also has a plan for their redemption: to “find” The Holy Grail.

The Dream Team7) Jack McDermott (Peter Boyle) in The Dream Team:
My favorite moment in this otherwise forgettable film is when Jack (who thinks he is the reborn Jesus Christ) walks into an inner city Baptist Church and shocks the predominantly black congregation by stripping down to his shorts.

6) If you haven’t seen Fight Club, this is a spoiler… The Narrator and/or “Tyler Durden” (Ed Norton and Brad Pitt) : The Narrator, played Ed Norton, metaphorically ‘kills’ or claims to have killed his parents. He almost kills himself. But I include him here because since Tyler is (and I *hope* you all seen Fight Club by now) a huge figment of the Narrator’s invention, stemming from his own split personality. I know that members of the Project Mayhem blew up half the city block, and that one of them died while doing an errand, but that might be an illusion too.

5) Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) in What About Bob?:
In this goofy comedy, Bob needs help and he won’t leave his therapist, Dr. Leo Marvin, (Richard Dreyfuss) alone. Convinced that Dr. Marvin is the only one who can help him, Bob hounds Marvin and his family while on vacation. When Bob feels he is cured, it is Dr. Leo Marvin that becomes temporarily insane himself, as Bob has driven him crazy.

Joon4) Juniper (Mary Stuart Masterson) in Benny & Joon:
Yes, I know, I know. Johnny Depp’s Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin like skits make the film a true joy to watch. Depp’s eccentric Sam notwithstanding, one great performance is given by Masterson as Juniper. The character’s mental illness, which seems to be a mix of autism and borderline schizophrenia, is charming in her own right. Her character also grounds the film in reality, since through most of the film, Depp’s character gives entertainment through pantomime and charm. There is a point in the film where I actually felt that Juniper’s breakdown would result in her being taken away from the custody of her brother Benny (Adian Quinn) and a sudden shock of responsibility on Sam. It’s a great film. Yeah, Depp is in it. But he didn’t make the film entertaining by himself.

3) Jeffrey Goines (Pitt) in 12 Monkeys:
If you seen this film, this is a no-brainer. I don’t even need to explain it. Truthfully, I don’t care what Brad Pitt has done since, other than Se7en or the Oceans films. I really think Brad hasn’t done any better than 12 Monkeys since.

Clean, Shaven2) Peter Winter (Peter Greene) in Clean, Shaven:
There have been countless occasions where Hollywood have incorrectly treated people who suffer from schizophrenia as sociopaths; Lodge Kerrigan’s first film from 1994 is an outstanding debut; the writer-director would go on to explore schizophrenia again in 2004’s Keane. But in Clean, Shaven, actor Peter Greene gives such an outstanding performance it is overlooked today as it was then. That’s probably because Greene has done supporting roles that usually have him play thugs. Indeed, the same year that he was in Clean, Shaven, he played the main mobster Dorian in The Mask. However, Greene’s usual typecasting, it could be argued, helped this film, because the film is shot in a way that suggests he may have killed a few young girls and is the prime suspect in such disappearances. Even when it is clear that he didn’t do it, the suspicion of him doesn’t end automatically.

250px-a-beautiful-mind-3.jpg1) John Forbes Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind:
Here is the only entry I have that is based on a real person. I am usually floored when I hear the internet community slamming Ron Howard’s Oscar winner and Russell Crowe’s Oscar win at that. Kerrigan’s film explored issues of the stereotypes of schizophrenia and turned them around in an engaging dramatic thriller. Howard’s film actually visualizes schizophrenia, as one (real) character puts it, ‘a hell’ where a brilliant, gifted teacher, John Nash, loses touch with reality, and is tormented by characters who are so well done that if you never seen the film, you too could be convinced that they were real. The hell is not only affecting Nsah, but those around him attempting to understand the disease, specifically his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). I’ve heard criticism from people that the film “isn’t accurate” and many things were changed or left out. I always counter with four basic points:

Is it that important to the story compressed in a movie that is about two hours (without slowing down the pace)? Is it speculation? If it is not speculation, would then people be satisfied with such behaviors possibly attributed to schizophrenia or that they might have appeared to be so? Finally, show me a Hollywood film based on a true story that doesn’t do a few alterations either because of circumstance or dramatic value. Good luck and happy hunting.

Honorable Mentions:
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) in American Psycho:
Did he kill or didn’t he kill? Director Mary Harron makes the film surreal and ambiguous; some viewers, put off by Bateman’s POV might think he is a sadist and truly despicable. It isn’t an easy film to watch. But then we slowly discover Bateman may just be simply an overworked executive who fantasies about sex and murder, that some of the sex may have taken place, but none of the killings. It’s all open for interpretation, which keeps this film very much alive for those who see it. Do I recommend it to everyone? No. I get it, I thought it was clever, (why are we laughing when Bateman dances with a chainsaw while dancing to Huey Lewis’ “I Want A New Drug”?) but I never fully enjoyed the film.

Another honorable mention is Kevin Spacey’s character in K-Pax. During the film ‘Prot’ claims he’s from outer space. If you seen the film, then you know why I didn’t include him. Characters mistaken for insane people don’t count in this top ten, but I *almost* did.

Is there anyone who I left off the list who you think I should have included?

author picture Darren Seeley (184 posts)
Fave directors include David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Michael Mann, Anique Faqua, Walter Hill, John Carpenter, John Woo and James Cameron. An aspiring screenwriter, I wrote several spec scripts (platform: Final Draft) that I occasionally submit to contests, Inktip, and workshop through peer review sites like Triggerstreet and Zoetrope. I have attended The Austin Film Festival and Heart Of Screenwriters Conference in 2001 and 2002. CoP marks my third go around as an internet film reviewer of sorts. My previous film hub haunts were 'Dark Universe' and, most notably, 'The Projector Booth'. Location: MI,USA.


  • Good top 10!

    I would like to add:

    Since substance-induced madness is also allowed, I am surprised you didn’t mention Peter Weller in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, after he develops an addiction to the bug powder he uses. His hallucinations of the giant bugs he then sees are incredible.

    I would also add Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. Here it is extreme fatigue that f**ks with his mind. Very good performance.

    Also, Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump should be in there. As well as Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. Maybe not the very best, but the most famous anyway.

    And this list isn’t complete without DiCaprio’s epic performance of Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He best role ever.

    Oh, it’s Darren Aronofsky, by the way 😉

    Comment by Paco — Fri August 15, 2008 @ 12:42
  • I reckon Brad Pitt’s performance in 12 Monkeys should be at number two and even Bruce Willis’s performance should be mentioned because Willis is such a typecast actor you’d have to be a total idiot not to realize that. And yet in 12 Monkeys he does a kick-ass job at being possibly insane even though the movie concludes that he really is from the *future* And I nearly forgot Christian Slater in Heathers OR Pump Up the Volume. Heathers is a sort of obvious reason but in Pump Up the Volume I see a kind of split personality in him and his mannerisms are just hilariously “nutty”

    Comment by Mellow Dee — Sun January 11, 2009 @ 16:33

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.