“You see this knife? I’m going to teach you to speak English with this fucking knife.”
Under an assumed name, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) befriends Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in 1800s New York. With the help of his lover, Jenny (Cameron Diaz), Amsterdam aspires to murder Bill and avenge the death of his father.
Let’s acknowledge for just a second how fucking amazing Daniel Day-Lewis is in this movie. I know this month is all about Leo, but Daniel kind of steals the show here. He’s larger than life. Per usual.
Anyway, Bill is also a monster. He appears to have kinship with Amsterdam and Jenny, but turns on anyone who wrongs him and doesn’t shy away from getting good and bloody about it.
Distilled, sadism implies a person who enjoys violence or pain, or the perception that they are causing pain. This can certainly be enveloped in personality disorders, psychopathy, or other mental health conditions, but it can also be a solo trait that does not infringe on this person having functional – even healthy – relationships with other people.
Bill is in good company; as part of a violent gang, he is able to use violence with pleasure and hide his unusual personality trait in plain sight. As referenced in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (of all places), sadism does not connote a full-blown mental health problem – at least, not always. For example, as part of a sexual relationship involving bondage, a person practicing CONSENSUAL sexual sadism is not violating the rights of others and is therefore able to still go to work, go out in public, and hey, they even wear a mask during a pandemic. What that person does in their bedroom with their CONSENTING partner is their own damn business, thank you very much.
Where Bill differs from this version of a sadist is he clearly does not care about the rights of anyone else. He uses justification that he is a “native” of New York to inflict horror on anyone claiming to be an outsider. And he does not hesitate to turn against people he cares about in order to right a believed wrong against himself. Even his vocation as a butcher allows him an outlet to cause pain, and to practice for slicing up humans when they cross his ever-changing invisible lines.