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Frosch, J.P. (2009). A Note on Mafia Movies. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 90(3):661-664.

(2009). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 90(3):661-664

Film Note

A Note on Mafia Movies

James P. Frosch

Near the end of The Public Enemy (Wellman: 1931), luck runs out on the mobster played by Jimmy Cagney as he falls in a rain of police bullets. There is a fleeting moment between his realization of what is happening to him and his death. It is a moment of confrontation between his grandiose sense of invulnerability and the reality of his mortality. With a look of disbelief on his face he mutters: “I ain't so tough”, and falls into the gutter. Like most Mafia movies, The Public Enemy is a morality play. It tells the story, repeated in so many other Mafia films, of a protagonist whose lust for power and belief in his own invincibility fuel his rise from the street to the top of the mob world. Then, as in Greek myth, the anti-hero overreaches and commits the classical sin of hubris: believing in his own divinity. He perishes, the victim of his own manic denial.

In the psychoanalytic literature, Rosenfeld (1964, 1971) developed the concept of destructive narcissism and, in recent years, Steiner (1993) and Kernberg (2007) have refined and elaborated it. Steiner writes of a world of inner objects that is like a Mafia gang. Within this world:

While there are countless dramas that recount the rise and fall of the overreaching hero, Mafia films have a special twist. They focus on destructive narcissism and depict the seductiveness of a fantasy in which a person is so powerful and untouchable that he is beyond the rules of law and retribution. In this fantasy, a person can indulge his desire to dominate and humiliate others, especially others who have insulted him.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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