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Ethics and Morality

Archetypal Psychopaths in Two Contemporary Films

Greed motivates murder in "Killers of the Flower Moon" and "Zone of Interest."

Key points

  • Some psychopaths are passive followers. They are just as guilty as the initiators.
  • Greed and envy are strong motivators for murder.
  • Complicity leads to mass murder and genocide.

The Zone of Interest and Killers of the Flower Moon are each based on historical facts occurring in the first half of the 20th century.

The psychopaths in both films are mass murderers.

According to Dr. Robert Hare, who developed the diagnostic assessment, the Psychopathy Checklist, (PCL), psychopaths have a defect in understanding the emotional connotation of words but not the dictionary definition of words. They are cruel and ruthless, lack empathy and are not psychotic by medical standards nor insane by legal.

Killers of the Flower Moon is about the systematic killing of the Osage Indians to strip them of their wealth by obtaining the headrights, the annual royalties, from the oil production given to them for their land.

William Hale, an Oklahoma politician, and fraudster, played by Robert De Niro, enlists a compliant, passive antisocial by the name of Ernest Burkhardt just off the boat from the World War, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to befriend and marry the Osage woman, Mollie Kyle, played by Lily Gladstone. Ernest is a compliant psychopath.

The expectation is that Ernest will participate in the killings required to ensure that Mollie inherits the headrights of her entire family. Ernest obeys Hale, knowing full well what subsequently must be done to his wife Mollie to acquire the headrights himself. Mollies family is included in the sixty or more Osage persons killed between 1918 and 1931.

In the other contemporary film, the concentration camp Auschwitz is the eponymous "zone of interest."

In this startling film, Commander Rudolph Hoss and his wife Hedwig, played by Christian Friedel and Sandra Hiller, live with their five children in a home on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp Hoss built. Their home is separated from the camp by a mere garden wall. Though the killing ground is just yards away from the Commandant’s home deaths are out of view. Though screams and rifle shots are heard, the family goes about their garden parties and pool frolicking seemingly oblivious. Yet one daughter cannot sleep in her bed at night. And the boys collect gold teeth.

We see Hedwig coolly parading in front of a mirror wearing a mink coat. Her hand reaches into the coat pocket and pulls out a lipstick which she tries on. She instructs her maid to repair the coat’s lining. She tells the household, that each may pick an item from the pile of lingerie.

By the time the trains come to bring their Jewish passengers to Auschwitz to be exterminated or worked to death, their lives had been stripped of all wealth, property, profession and homeland but that didn’t mean the thievery, ended there. Whatever wealth remained on their personhoods was robbed. Their suitcases were picked clean.

Hoss has been given a promotion that takes him to Berlin. Behind his back his superiors say, “the task is too big for him,” referring to the anticipated expansion of Auschwitz to accommodate the German Industries decamped there to use prisoners for free labor.

Hoss will be the chief administrator of all the concentration camps. He will administer the administrators, a far cry from this having built the camp designed for the solution to the Jewish question.

His wife becomes unmoored, realizing that their idyllic setting is forever lost to them and insists on remaining at Auschwitz.

Ferocious greed and envy drives both these mass murders.

Ideology provides an entitlement to steal the desired material things from people thought of as inferior. It is facilitated by “Humanity's capacity for willful ignorance” said about Zone of Interest, and equally applies to Killers of the Flower Moon. The director, Martin Scorsese has said “the insidious nature of complicity finds its way and the next thing you know it’s genocide."


Without Conscience, The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among us, Robert Hare Pocket Books 1993, In Killers of the Flower Moon, Interview with Martin Scorsese October 19th,2023

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