Nightmare Alley, or The Hell a Narcissist Lives in


In this short article, I analyze how the movie by Guillermo del Toro cleverly reveals how sad a narcissist's psyche functions.

Bradley Cooper beautifully plays the character of Stan Carlisle. A man whom the viewer is led to fall for and then despise. 

A Happy, Benevolent Façade

The movie starts with a very charming man, who seems to be troubled with some mysterious past. He shows kindness to several people. He knows to defend himself. He demonstrates strong charisma and attracts attention easily.

He has all it takes to be all he would want to be.

  • He is clever. He seems to understand how mechanics works. He proves to be able to fix a car engine… and later we discover he also does for… people’s inner-workings. 
  • He’s an artist. He translates his objects of interest into meticulously designed drawings “that helps him think”. 
  • He’s an articulated speaker who knows how to magnetize and captivate the audience. At first, from behind the scene, and next, on stage.

And of course, as his looks are not bad looking either, he attracts all the right opportunities to climb up towards his goals. 

Romance - Is love really involved?

He does attract the attention of women.

3 in particular.

But is there love?

The first female character is a “Medium” who’s partner is a “Magician” called Pete. She initiates a sexual relationship with him, which enables him to get closer to her husband that Stan (Bradley Cooper) quickly sees he can learn/steal his tricks from him. She believed the façade. 

In parallel, there is Molly (played by Rooney Mara), whom he followed as soon as she meets his eye when he arrives. He plays the perfect gentleman. He observes her from afar, learns what she likes, etc. He isn’t pushy. He is patient so that she is the one who comes to him and “wants” to be with him.

But, we already know. His patience is being compensated by the -probably regular- sexual encounters that Zeena provides him with. It becomes clear that he is a user.

He also was busy learning all that he could from old Pete and from any situation and anyone who crossed his path. And then, he discovers that Molly is not to be approached – warned by her protectors, which probably makes her even more interesting and valuable to him… A challenge, a prize, a possession.

When she eventually succumbs to the dream he sold to her, that is when he starts looking to find another…

The third female character is a Doctor in Psychology – probably a psychoanalyst, played by Kate Blanchett. She saw right through him and because she attempted to drop his mask in public, he humiliated her. They had some kind of mutual fascination. But the relationship was guided by a mutual need for power over the other. It could only end in a blood bath – so to speak.

Love never has a place where fear is present.

They, too, have a sexual relationship, but she only pretends to be vulnerable. Just enough to experiment with him. To make him open up his wounds in order to destroy him in ever possible way: making him loose his values, his pride, his “love” (Molly), up to his main interest – money. He leaves with nothing, to become what he had always feared: to be nothing, no one, alone. 

A Dark, Fearful Soul

In line with the new tendency within artistic productions as well as in people’s lives in general of late, the director doesn’t fall into the old binary and simplistic approach that would cage characters into bad or good boxes. Guillermo del Toro displays instead a more complex character. A sad, deeply hurt character who chose the “easy route” of known pain rather than risk himself to love and trust. Stan, who could have had everything – and who did for a short time – chose to throw it all away because of that rooted lack of love. This hole inside that led him to spoil the love he was given by cheating, stealing and hurting everything and everyone around him rather than risk being vulnerable and authentic.

The result being, he eventually manifested his deepest fears and became exactly what he ran away from. Just because he believed he was…

born to be a pathetic geek!

Any hope?

Hope for the main character?

I do not think so. His distrust is so powerful that he convinced himself that he wasn’t any good and that his dreams were only that. The way people interact with him show the perfect reflection of his inner-thoughts. What he nourished prevailed.

Hope for any other character?

Molly, chose to leave him when she saw who he was choosing to be and that he would never deliver on his promise to her. She turns out to be a strong character. She probably is the most balanced one as well and is most likely to have learned a lesson from the experience for the rest of her life.

The female doctor, although she manages to have the upper hand with him, she seems to have a shallow, sad life. No love there. She carries her own wounds.

The big picture

The fact that such a movie is being made shows that the narcissistic tendency of our Western Societies is evolving. It is now in the open.

When unveiled and brought into the light, a subject comes out of the subconscious mind. And like anything in life, what becomes conscious eventually transforms!

You too have suffered from a Narcissist?

Learn how you can put a stop to your suffering today thanks to the Reckon-Essence® program, tailor-made to help you become who you TRULY are.

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