Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema II: Negative Portrayals

Reason Papers 37 (1) (2015)
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In this essay, I look at two negative portrayals of egoism. I summarize in detail the superb All About Eve—which won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie is about the rise of a ruthlessly ambitious actress, and how she treats her main competitor. Eve Harrington worms her way into top theatrical actress Margo Channing’s inner circle by pretending to be an admirer, but she is really a schemer who wants to eclipse Margo’s star in the theater universe. However, Eve runs into trouble when she attempts to manipulate tart-tongued theater critic, Addison de Witt. The movie portrays the New York theater industry as being full of narcissists. I then review the classic film noir The Third Man (1949), rated by the prestigious British Film Institute as the greatest film of the 20th century. The film centers around a charismatic, handsome criminal mastermind Harry Lime living in bombed-out post-War Vienna. Lime is a man of no conscience or empathy—a true psychopath. He cripples children by selling hospitals adulterated penicillin. But we (the audience) still feel sympathy for him. I end the piece by explaining the psychological mechanisms at work that give rise to our paradoxical sympathy.
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