Films, Females, and Murder

Some women cite cinematic inspiration for their violent acts.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

We've heard about certain types of films or TV shows giving some people the inspiration to kill. Usually, the offenders are young men or teams of a man and woman in which the man takes the lead. The shows most often named, post-arrest, include Natural Born Killers, The Matrix, Dexter, American Psycho, Scream, and Halloween.

It's rare, however, that a lone female identifies with a fictional killer so strongly that it feeds her motivation to kill. Earlier this month, a 15-year-old Indonesian girl murdered a 6-year-old neighbor boy. Referred to only as "NF" due to her age, she reportedly loved horror movies with sadistic twists.

NF was visiting her victim on March 5 when she invited him to go into the bathroom. She filled the tub and drowned him. For good measure, she strangled him and stuffed the body in the closet of her own bedroom. She then posted on Facebook about it: "The lifeless boy is still in my wardrobe… Many residents are looking for him… Some policemen and household members inspected my house, but none of them found it… No one knows I am the culprit."

When police questioned her, NF confessed. She said she had no regrets and "was satisfied" with her cold-hearted act. Her diary, full of images, showed a preference for music with dark themes and a strong interest in the Chucky character from a 1988 slasher movie. He's a serial killer that inhabits a creepy doll. She'd drawn his picture and said that, since seeing the film, she'd suppressed her urge to commit murder several times. However, NF had a history of animal cruelty since age 4.

According to the news from Jakarta, Dr. Dharmawan Ardi Purnama, an Indonesian psychiatrist, viewed the film as potentially "a trigger for her to execute its psychopathic impulse." Mental disorders, he said, put some children at risk for being influenced by fictional depictions into mimicking a violent character's behavior.   

Similarly, American psychiatrist Emanuel Tanay stated in a 2012 article in Psychiatric Times that some mentally ill individuals are vulnerable to dramatized violence. "They are naturally more vulnerable," he said, "because they are in the community, they are sick, and they may misinterpret something."

The actual influence is difficult to pinpoint, but Tanay noted the pervasive presence of violence in American media. "You turn on the television, and violence is there. You go to a movie, and violence is there. Reality is distorted. If you live in a fictional world, then the fictional world becomes your reality."

People who are lonely, isolated, or angry might focus on the satisfaction a violent character derives from violently dominating others or exacting revenge. Wielding such power becomes attractive to these individuals, in contrast to their own confusion, anxiety, and perceived weakness. NF wrote, "I'm the teen that couldn't control my emotions."

More recent theories hold that the association of violent acts with movies or other media images is largely idiosyncratic. That is, viewers are attracted to themes and images that align with their moods and motivations, so different users respond differently to any given violent film. This amplifies the difficulty in identifying causal factors. In order to understand the violent acts that someone like NF committed, we would explore how the violent images and themes she embraced relate to her life issues. Fiction is thus not considered causal but still influential, particularly on the form the real-life violence takes.

For example, Elena Lobacheva, 25, was part of a gang that stabbed or bludgeoned 14 people to death in Moscow. To her, murder was erotic, and she took photos of the mutilated bodies so she could relive it. She said that "randomly stabbing the body of a dying human brought her sexual pleasure," and she often laughed as she killed. One of the intended victims, a street cleaner, escaped and went to the police. The gang was arrested in 2015.

Police found the victim photos in Lobacheva's apartment, along with torture videos and step-by-step instructions for murder. Like NF above, Lobacheva adored the Chucky character so much she'd tattooed his image onto her arm so he'd always be close. Watching the film during childhood appears to have paved the way for her later obsession with Russia's notorious "Chessboard Killer," Alexander Pichushkin, arrested in 2005. He famously said that murder was like an orgasm. Understanding how Lobacheva developed into a serial killer with a thirst for gore and violence would be incomplete without considering the horror movie's possible early influence.  

References

Kaplan, A. (2012, October 5). Violence in the media: What effects on behavior? Psychiatric Times.