Five Great Movie Madmen (and Women)

The nutty hermit is one of my favorite character archetypes. He (or she) is usually found in a break from the action in the middle of a story. They will be recognized by the brief nature of the sequence they feature in, the lack of any civilized people within fifty miles of their residence, and being mad as a hatter.

These are five of cinema’s best madmen. There will be spoilers for some of these movies.

Iris Hineman – Minority Report

I tend to refer to this as one of Spielberg’s weirdest movies. Everything in Minority Report is jarring, uncomfortable, or simply bizarre. No exceptions granted to the creator of the Precrime program, Dr. Iris Hineman.

Hineman isn’t an obvious head-case like the characters who will follow her on this list, but she is one creepy old lady. Right from the start, we see she lives out in the countryside. Given the highly technical nature of her work with Precrime, and its apparent success, her current residence sends a red flag up to the audience and to Anderton. A bunch of apparantly flesh-eating plants that attack him at various points while he’s moving around her garden only reinforce the notion.

And then we get to Hineman herself, played by character actor Lois Smith. I don’t have a video, unfortunately, but for the most part she reacts with unnatural calm to Anderton, whether he’s trespassing her property or telling her he’s DC’s newest alleged murderer. She sorta-kinda helps him, as much as she can. Then she kisses him. I’m really not doing a good job of translating the oddness of her performance.

I should stress she looks like this the entire scene.

Plus, she invented Precrime using the dreams of hallucinating drug babies, so there’s that.

Insanity Class: Creepy old lady.
Insanity Rating: 2 out of 5 flesh-eating weeds.

Noland – Predators

This late sequel (or alternate storyline) to Predator is, among other things, shockingly watchable. Just to remind you, it follows a group of people air-dropped onto an alien planet to serve as sport for the Predators. Robert Rodriguez doesn’t always cut it for me, but this one ain’t half bad. The best part, by far, is the scene where the gang of miscreants finds Laurence Fishburne, the longest-living resident in the deadly alien forest.

Fishburne fits comfortably into the “went crazy surviving” archetype. He was brought to the world on an earlier hunting trip, and is the only man who’s managed to outlive his life expectancy. Unfortunately for the main characters, the cost of his survival was becoming a full-fledged maniac.

I couldn’t find a clip of the scene where he starts giggling while retelling the story of the years he spent fighting for survival, or the scene where he tries to murder the only human beings he’s seen since landing on this godforsaken planet, but this is a start:


Insanity Class: “The one who got away.”
Insanity Rating: 3 out of 5 cannibalized Predator helmets.

Jellon Lamb – The Proposition

If you haven’t seen this bleak, violent Australian Western yet, you really oughta just go do that instead of read anything I could possibly say about it.

As part of a makeshift plea bargain, Guy Pearce’s Charlie Burns goes out to hunt down his brother in the Australian Outback. And in the middle of his search appears John Hurt, predictably playing the “John Hurt” character. Jellon Lamb is a bounty hunter, one out on the same mission (more or less) as Charlie. The two share a drink — obviously, not Lamb’s first of the day — and Lamb sort of goes on a rant.


I honestly don’t know how to summarize that scene. “John Hurt goes on a rant” doesn’t even come close, and yet that’s all that really happens except for the bit where he makes a knife appear out of thin air. I guess I could call it “the scene where John Hurt cackles over Charles Darwin, nearly slits a guy’s throat, and claims he’s a white man, so he can’t be a beast.”

Insanity Class: Drunk philosopher.
Insanity Rating: 4 out of 5 pissed-off Irishmen.

Merlin – Shrek the Third

No synopsis needed. Suffice it to say that this is the Shrek movie where he worries about having kids and has to track down a teenaged King Arthur. This third installment features a shocking lack of the unpredictable hilarity present in the original and (particularly) its sequel. That’s probably a large part of why it’s generally considered a failure (artistically, at least). The one part of it that DOES go refreshingly bonkers is the sequence with Merlin.

If ever the phrase “left the reservation” described an animated character, it would be Shrek’s Merlin. Famous Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle lends Merlin his voice, so we know we’re in for a treat from the get-go. The characterization of Merlin as a rock-chewing hippie, complete with socks, sandals, and an unfortunate lack of underwear, is perfect.

This is another difficult-to-find video, so if you haven’t seen the movie just imagine a better-than-average Monty Python sketch and you’ll be close.

The best gag of this sequence, for me, has to be Merlin’s reaction to Arthur’s request for a magical spell: “I just don’t have that kind of magic in me anymore. How about a hug? That’s the best kind of magic!”

Insanity Class: Drug-addled hippie.
Insanity Rating: 4 out of 5 sessions of primal scream therapy.

Kurtz – Apocalypse Now

Maybe Col. Kurtz is too important a character to meet the criteria I outlined before the jump. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because this movie is awesome and I don’t even need a reason to end an article with it.

Francis Ford Coppola once said of Apocalypse Now, “My movie is not about Vietnam, my movie IS Vietnam.” If we can extend that quote, I’d say something like, “Marlon Brando wasn’t portraying a lunatic, Marlon Brando WAS a lunatic.

From imdb: “Brando eventually turned up late, drunk, 40kg overweight, and admitted he hadn’t read the script or even “Heart of Darkness”, the book it was based on. He read Coppola’s script, and refused to do it. After days of arguments over single lines of dialogue, an ad-lib style script was agreed upon.”

Which, would explain this (awesome) scene’s existence:


Insanity Class: Marlon Brando
Insanity Rating: 5 out of 5 beheaded livestock.

Similar Posts


  1. I quite enjoyed Lord Barkis from Corpse Bride, maybe it was Richard E. Grant’s voice mostly, but he was also such an evil devious individual and so despotic towards everybody, just a joy to watch.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.