A Dreamer Walking

Identify With The Villain!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 19, 2010

What makes for a good villain? I think the main answer is a villain that you can identify with. I know that most would say, “make sure the villain is SCARY”, or, “Make sure the audience loves to hate him”. Personally, I do not find those things work as well as finding a way to have a villain, while being truly evil, be relatable towards the audience, even to the point of having the audience feel a little sympathetic towards the character.

Alfred Hitchcock seemed to be a master at making the audience feel for the villains, to the point that we are even rooting for them. In the first three Alfred Hitchcock movies I saw, I found the antagonist to be just as interesting as the protagonist. In Rear Window the villain is the neighbor across the street who is suspected and eventually proven to have killed his wife. However, with the suspected murderer, Lars Thorwald, we are not prone to hating him, in fact at the beginning of the movie we feel a sort of pity for the character. He is helping feed and take care of a bed bound wife who seems to take his charity for granted. When the main character Jeff (played by James Stewart) eventually finds out that Lars had killed his wife, we don’t immediately feel hateful toward the Lars, in fact we could understand why the character did what he did.

We the audience need to be able to relate with the villain. the villains intentions need to be understandable in order for us to understand him as a character and more importantly in order to understand the protagonist. In order to understand what the hero is fighting towards, we need to know what he is fighting against. A good villain brings out the best in a hero. We create the villain in order to push the hero forward, to push the hero to do things he would never have done without that evil force.

I have always liked the type of villains that are almost mirror images of the hero. In Star Wars we have one of the greatest villains of all time in Darth Vader. Darth Vader was in fact at one point a good guy. Vader is the father of the antagonist Luke Skywalker. This idea that Vader was good at one point just like Luke, makes Vader’s lust for destruction and power all the more interesting. We immediately have more empathy and concern for Luke because we see a character in Vader, who was just like him. The empathy and concern builds up until the very end of the sixth movie, where the Emperor is trying to draw Luke to the “Dark Side” of the force.

With Hitchcock’ films there is an almost eerie feeling to most of his villains, as if Hitchcock believed more in the evil of human nature then the good. I personally think that the villain needs to be used to help us understand the main character in the film and used to further the good in human nature. However, to do that we need to be able to relate to the evil which often comes in the form of a living and breathing villain. We need to understand to some point why the character is doing the evil he or she is doing. Not all good villains need to have our pity, for instance almost every Disney villain ever made seems to be on the outside of us feeling sorry for them. They are usually portrayed as extremely cold and dark. But, even with the wicked Queen in Snow White, there was the natural understand of lust for beauty and power. That natural understanding made the villain identifiable. They portrayed that lust to a high extreme which in return created a very scary villain. The Queen also represented a fear that caused the main characters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to act, which allowed us to understand them to a much greater extent.

If you have a character that is doing evil for no reason you have a character that doesn’t really strike fear in the audiences hearts. It does not matter how evil a villain is if there is no way of identifying with him or her. The scary part of a character like Lars Thorwald, is he can literally be your next door neighbor, the character was understandable and you could see that temptation of evil in your own life and in those around you. The power of a villain like Darth Vader came from the heightened example he represented, of who we can truly become if we gave into fear and lust for power. The Queen in Disney’ Snow White was maybe not a character any of us could see ourselves becoming, but she did have root reasons for why she was doing what she was doing, things that we as the audience could identify with.

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  1. […] Identify with the Villain! by adreamer49 […]


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