Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema I: Sympathetic Portrayals

Reason Papers 36 (1) (2014)
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In this essay, I look at more or less sympathetic portrayals of egoists in film. I start by explaining some basic concepts: psychological egoism; ethical egoism; default egoism; rational egoism; egotism; cynicism; narcissism; and psychopathy. I then review in-depth two excellent WWII films, Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I note that the key protagonist in both pictures is the same type of character—both played by the same fine actor, William Holden. The main protagonist in both is a soldier in a POW camp, who appears completely egoistic; however, in both cases, the movie shows that he is just a man acting for self-preservation, but within moral limits. The character in both cases is certainly not an egotist, nor a narcissist, much less a psychopath.
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