Watching Cowboys vs. Aliens recently, I came across a thought that maybe only those who study culture and cinema would notice.
Villains in the older movies tended to be evil on purpose, as though they knew what role fate had cast them in (tongue firmly in cheek), and embraced it.
(The scene I cite is where a snotty brat harasses the local bartender and then extorts money from the citizens while thanking them for their "Christian charity". By invoking this religious philosophy the character is openly defying a concept of morality by mocking it).
Contrasted to the films of today where the villain is almost a tragic figure, convinced that what they are doing is just as valid and right as the hero character.
Sure, no one wants to be wrong. We all justify the things we do. It has become almost an excuse now, and it really undermines personal accountability.
Like in The Grinch, starring Jim Carey. In the original story, the Grinch hated the denizens of Who-ville because they were always good, no matter what. It galled him. He chose to be isolated. He chose to be mean because of what he didn't understand, and the overwhelming goodness of the Who's changed him. In the film? The Who's were cruel and teased the Grinch mercilessly.
This was done under the auspices that people can't relate to goodness.
Fortunately or unfortunately life is not like this. Many of our modern day antagonists or villains are the dreaded psychopath.
Psychopaths are not created, per SE. They are often "born" that way, with certain environmental triggers that reinforce or encourage their antisocial behavior. And therapy seems to actually make these individuals worse, as they learn the tricks to hide their dark motivations more effectively.
These "bad guys" can't be reasoned with. They cannot be made to feel sorry, or empathetic to anothers suffering. Much like Joker in the recent Batman films. What made Joker so much more threatening and dangerous was that no one knew what his motivations were, he made them up as he went along.
I'm not saying all films and novels should do this. Sometimes the villain just doesn't need an origin.
In the Seven Faces of Dr. Lao starring Tony Curtis, the main antagonist rancher Clinton Stark has this to say, "every time I bet on weakness, corruption, fallibility… I want to lose. But I always win."
This seems to imply that the villain wants good to win, and understands that what he is doing is wrong. This is the opposite of the Joker. Stark is searching for a sign, some greater purpose not just for himself, but in general, and going about it the wrong, selfish way. This seems more interesting to me than the I was hurt so now I hurt others motif. The Joker on the other hand just wants to watch the world burn, and take others with him. Both are compelling in their desires, and dangerous because of it, but they do not make any excuses for what they do, it is just who they are.
In Unbreakable with Samuel L. Jackson, his antagonist's character Elijah Price says, "Now that we know who you are... I know who I am. I'm not a mistake! It all makes sense, in the comic you know how you can tell who the arch villain is going to be? He's the exact opposite of the hero! And most times they're friends, like you and me. I should've known way back when. You know why David? Because of the kids! They called me Mr. Glass."
This is a twist on the I was hurt so now I hurt. Here Elijah doesn't become the villain because he was made fun of by children. This teasing was, for him, a sign of who he was supposed to be. This villain is trying to find his place in the world, he thinks he is the bad guy and so designs elaborate tests to find the hero, using cliches like rescuing children. His hypothesis complete, his character reaches a fully defined arc at the same time as the hero. He is not made a bad guy, he is the bad guy. He just didn't know it.
Villains aren't usually interesting to me. To misquote Faulkner: "(the Villain) is an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." He is pomp and flair disguising that he is empty, and bereft of that which makes a person. I know many others who say that the bad guy is more interesting and to me that states the effectiveness of the portrayal of the villain. Evil is seductive by nature. It presents itself. Evil and wickedness seem more prevalent in our society because evil draws attention to itself. It is vain. It cries out "Pay attention to me! Watch what I can do! See? I am amazing!"
While goodness and good people are quiet and diligent. They stand up when others would sit, work when others would steal. Their path is the long way around, taking time to build, and therefore lasting longer.
Don't believe me? In the context of cinema this is proven with almost every film. Take a look at the screen time of the average antagonist.
Compare the minutes of Spider-man on screen to that of the Goblin. Compare Mr. Potter's screen time to George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. The Joker to Batman. Tai Lung to Po in Kung Fu Panda. They are all bumps on the hero's path. A hero does not need a villain, but his deeds seem greater by contrast.
Ben Bova, a writer, would disagree with me. "In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them."
There are, though. There are many people dreaming and scheming how to hurt others, or steal from them. They laugh at the misfortune of others and strive to cause it. Just because they are blind does not mean they are innocent.
My point in all of this? Not sure. Except that I'm tired of the bully who was bullied villain story.
I have often thought of harvesting my dreams for ideas. Those of you that have actually read parts of my site will remember the Thor-with-ice-horse dream I had.
I really should record them sometime, because many of my dreams happen in the third person, and have a cast of celebrities.
Or, like my favourite ones that have repeated over the years; I am in Batman: the animated series. Yes, my dreams have been drawn and colored sometimes.
Here's an example of a dream I once had that could have been a movie:
A battered green Neon sits by the side of a highway in what could be outside the Seattle area. A man (played by Christian Bale in the dream)wakes up to tapping on his car window. He rolls down the window and says to a police officer,
Man: Sorry, officer. I was tired and I didn't want to fall asleep at the wheel, so I pulled over here. I know it isn't legal, but I figured killing someone wasn't either.
Cop: Step out of the car, sir.
Man: Sure. Yeah. Look, hey. The car isn't mine. It belongs to a friend. He knows about it though. So it's okay.
Cop: Sir, could you please step out of the car.
Man: Sure. Do you want me to take my licence out?
Cop: Just get out and keep your hands where I can see them.
(The man gets out of the car slowly. He is wearing a demin jacket and denim jeans with tan construction boots. He moves awkwardly in the clothes, like he's not sure where he fits inside the clothes)
Man: Can you tell me what the problem is, Officer?
Cop: Sure thing. The licence plate on this car matches its make and model, and was reported stolen over seven months ago. Mind telling me how you got it?
Man: I told you. It's my friends car. I borrowed it Friday, so it can't be missing that long (laughs). I borrowed it 'cause my truck is in the shop, and I gotta get out to this job. I got laid off recently.
Cop: Well it sure isn't Friday, less you mean to say you planned on borrowing it Friday. Today is Thursday.
Man: Thursday? No. I didn't sleep that long. (Scoffs) I couldn't have slept for a week. People can't do that. You're wrong. It's Sunday. How can a car be stolen for seven months when I just borrowed it?
Cop: Sir, is your name Eric Shye?
Eric: (warily) Yes.
Cop: Sir, you've been reported missing as well. Please turn around and put your hands on your head.
And that's how the dream started, like a movie. It followed a begining, middle and end, and involved escape from a psychiatric ward, electrocution, and a reconciliation with an estranged wife.
In fact, I may pursue this story. Perhaps in actual script form....
I am now left with a few more hours in the day. To be honest, its hours at night and it's mostly because the newborn is up at those hours (Yes, he finally came!)
Our trip with Lex (still in utero) to the hospital was an eventful one. We called a cab at 2:30 in the morning and while we were waiting a cab pulled up. It wasn't the company we called but we were in a hurry so we hailed it.
Well, the person getting out of the cab is...how shall I say this politely...a "woman of the night".
And she had just finished giving the cab driver a "massage".
All this during a snowstorm.
So now I will have more time to devote to my family and during the wee hours of the morning, time to write and update this blog, aptly named Failed Daily.
Why "Failed Daily"?
Because I fail to update daily.