Recently, I sat down and watched I, Psychopath
(2009), an 83 minute documentary that aired on public television and was directed by Ian Walker.
I had heard about this film from a number of sources, but did not realize that I could watch it for free on YouTube – that is, until a good blogging-friend of mine, Sarah Strudwick
, sent me the link.
The main character in this movie is Sam Vaknin
, who plays himself, and is a self-proclaimed narcissistic psychopath. He published Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisted
and carries on his website HealthyPlace
What he inevitably does during his role in I, Psychopath is take viewers on a journey (or more like a trip) inside his strange mind. The end result of this documentary project, as so eloquently stated in the review Brain Scan, is Sam Vaknin messing with the directors mind.
Read what the writer of the review had to share:
Usually completion of a documentary brings relief, euphoria and, ideally, pride. When filmmaker Ian Walker finished I, Psychopath, what he felt was closer to post-traumatic stress.
Even now, two years after being taunted by a self-professed psychopath to learn what such people are capable of, the emotional wounds are yet to fully heal.
“It’s still a bit of a struggle,” Walker says. “I don’t know that I’m the same person I was before I started this show.”
His purpose in making the film was not to sensationalise the statistically rare psychopath who makes headlines through violence but to alert people to a more common variant – the successful “psychopath in a suit”.
They may be a manipulative neighbour, a bullying family member or, more commonly, an ambitious, erratic boss. They are largely an undiagnosed, unstudied group.
Psychopaths – people with little or no empathy – typically do not raise their hand for filmmakers but Walker found one: Sam Vaknin, a self-exiled Israeli corporate criminal now living in Macedonia.
Equipped with a camera, life experience and a wealth of research on the topic, Walker felt capable of fending off the mind games. He could hardly have been more wrong.
I, Psychopath recounts Walker’s descent into the maelstrom of Vaknin’s world. On camera, Vaknin is intriguingly self-aware and calmly boastful of his abilities to dissect the flaws of others to his advantage. Off camera, Vaknin disoriented Walker with an insidious dismantling of the filmmaker’s confidence.
To convey the effect of Vaknin’s derision, Walker recorded his private responses to the manipulation. Finally – and reluctantly – he also resorted to a hidden camera. “If I hadn’t had [a hidden camera] in my bag that day, I wouldn’t have come back with a film,” Walker says. “It wouldn’t have been a film that showed the real Sam, I believe, if I hadn’t done that despicable thing, which goes against every grain of my journalistic training and ethics.”
The documentary depicts Vaknin as a man who uses an above-average IQ to identify and exploit any possible weakness for his own gain. Walker says he did his best to insulate his personal life from Vaknin.
“Everything that was dear to me was off limits to him,” the filmmaker says.
Despite that, Vaknin learned of Walker’s love of music and singing, then focused on that as a pressure point. It was, Walker says, typical of how a psychopath operates.
“They have a biological advantage over mere mortals in that they spend all of their time looking for chinks in the armour,” Walker says. “He’s not superhuman or anything, it’s just that they spend their whole time doing it.”
While much of the documentary centres on taking Vaknin to European experts who confirm just how impressively psychopathic he is – the scholars are thrilled to have a patient who, for once, hasn’t arrived in handcuffs – the film also examines Vaknin’s relationship with his wife.
Even when confronted with Vaknin’s cruel dissection of her unfulfilled needs, barely a flicker of recognition crosses her face. Early in the documentary, Vaknin declares: “I love to be hated. And I hate to be loved.”
An email exchange that sought to speak with Vaknin for this article appeared to be seen as little more than a chance to taunt Walker anew. As for the interview request, Vaknin prevaricated for a week until the opportunity had passed.
Walker doesn’t regret the experience of making I, Psychopath but, given what he now knows, says he wouldn’t step into the same shoes twice.
“I was a kind of perfect victim material – I hope,” he says. Why hope? “The very best victims for psychopaths are good people,” the filmmaker says, explaining that trust and openness are fodder for psychopaths. “I’m hoping I’m a good person.”
So I invite you to take the time and watch this documentary from beginning-to-end. Not only will you see a real-live psychopath in action, but the effects he had on those who got involved with creating this interesting documentary. Enlightening indeed.
Note: After watching the film, please come back and post your comment below, to the benefit of all readers here. Of course, feel free to include all of your candid thoughts and your opinions on Sam Vaknin.
Until next time… keep safe and sane…