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Movie Recommendation #3: Madame Bovary

Tomorrow June 19, at 7 AM, Turner Classic Movies airs the 1949 movie “Madame Bovary,” one of my all-time favorite movies when it comes to showing ugly truths in relationship dynamics, and it’s especially accurate in its depiction of a specific type of Cluster B emotional vampire. She also seems to suffer from maladaptive daydreaming, which is described as excessive, immersive daydreaming that is so vivid, constant, and all-consuming that it begins interfering with realistic goal-setting, functional human relationships, finding practical solutions to life’s problems, and an overall productive life.

Like most movies of its era, “Madame Bovary” is very melodramatic, but don’t let that deter you because it’s psychologically very accurate. Emma Bovary is textbook narcissistic, histrionic, and borderline before there were ever clinical names for those conditions. This clip says it all:

Have you ever known a person like this? If you replace novels with Sex and the City and Nicholas Sparks DVDs it still works pretty well. When watching that clip, keep in mind my recent discussion of the Mad Men Season 5 finale (in fact you may want to read or reread that post before watching the movie, as it will illuminate the viewing greatly).

A book I discussed in that Mad Men post, Narcissistic Lovers by Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble, goes into the dynamics shown in the movie:

The [narcissist] uses people…to keep his “false self” alive while he continues his futile search for “ideal” love and deliverance of the disorder which enslaves him.

A Narcissist feels he will eventually find “ideal love.” He is on a constant quest to find it. “Ideal love ” doesn’t exist, except in a Narcissist’s mind. To a Narcissist, “ideal love” is a perfect love without mistakes. Once anything occurs in his relationship that isn’t “perfect,” the Narcissist balks and runs to his next victim.

Also, as I described in my Mad Men Season 5 finale piece:

Narcissists interact with the world using a false, idealized self, which is a perfectionist persona they feel represents the ideal person they should aspire to be. A major characteristic of the average narcissist is that he’s always chasing an ideal love, a perfect dream mate to go along with this idealized, false self. Narcissists feel if they find this perfect dream mate to be their ideal love, it will finally prove that their false self is also real. This perfect mate will be a mirror that reflects their own perfect persona back at them, thereby verifying this persona is real. The narcissist’s logic is, “if I can find the type of person I picture my false, idealized self being with and make them my real-life partner, that would be the final proof I need that my false, idealized self is in fact the real me.”

So he continues this futile search for a perfect person who will finally deliver them from the toxic shame and the personality disorder that enslaves him. However this search is doomed to fail because there is no such thing as a perfect anything.

This movie illustrates all of that very clearly and accurately. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly for the past year, see if you can spot the pure narcissists, compensatory narcissists, and codependents throughout the movie. You’ll probably feel familiar with many of the psychological dynamics.


Narcissistic Lovers: How to Cope, Recover and Move On by Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble.

Madame Bovary, the movie version in the clip above.

3 Responses to “Movie Recommendation #3: Madame Bovary”

  1. i tried doing this. in the end, after years, i found that the woman i was with only exacerbated my feelings of doubt, insecurity and unhappiness. she became a constant reminder of the all the things i would likely never be. so i semi-subconsciously destroyed the relationship step by step.

  2. I’d be interested in seeing your take on the movie then. Even though I never did what Emma Bovary did, I knew a real life version of her who was just like the clip above if you just changed the Christianity for Islam. It’s amazing how the author Flaubert so understood this personality type so long ago.

  3. There’s a book by that name right? yah. Just found it

    The recipe seems to be similar to Don Quixote.

    My first relationship with a total N/BPD was with a girl like that. She was after the perfect something. Once anything bad happened, it was suddenly the end and she would burn the bridge or, if she stayed, she would find it impossible to live with. I tried to help her but I had no idea of what I was dealing with – and “helping her” was my sickness.

    What happens to the male protagonist on this movie?