Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Villains?! We Don't Need No Stinking Villains!

We’ve spoken a couple times about the need to create conflict in stories. The easiest way to create conflict is to introduce a villain. A villain is a character who acts maliciously and spends the film either trying to destroy the hero or doing something evil which the hero must try to stop. Lately, all Hollywood films have villains. But you don’t actually need a villain.

In fact, if you look back at AFI’s Top 100 films, you will see something amazing. The list is dominated by films without anything that we think of as a true villain. For example, Citizen Kane has no villain, nor does The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia, The Graduate, My Fair Lady, 12 Angry Men, The Jazz Singer, Gone With the Wind or dozens more. Sometimes there are jerks who happened along, like in Easy Rider or Grapes of Wrath, but these are hardly “villains.” Similarly, sometimes the “villain” is just something nebulous without true villainous motives -- like the government in E.T.. And honestly, who is the real villain in The Caine Mutiny?

Interestingly, these films are all older. As you come to the modern era, most films suddenly have villains. I’m not sure why. Maybe this is bad writing or maybe the public mood has changed. . . maybe they think we’re simpletons? In any event, few films today go without a villain.

So let’s look at some films which don’t have clear villains and see if you’re surprised:

Goodfellas: You would think Goodfellas would have a villain. After all, it’s crawling with killers who keep turning on each other. Plus, there is the constant threat the cops will come swooping in or that a rival mafia family will go to war with our heroes. But there is no true villain who is actively plotting throughout the film to do in the hero. . . there are just a lot of dangerous people in his life.

Apocalypse Now: I’m kidding right? Of course Apocalypse Now has a villain, we can even name him: Kurtz. But Kurtz is no villain. Kurtz is the object of Willard’s mission. Kurtz doesn’t even know Willard exists until the end of the film and then he really doesn’t care. Moreover, Willard doesn’t see him as a villain, only as something mystical. The closest you get to a villain here is the sense that the North Vietnamese Army is out there somewhere ready to kill Willard if they run across him, but they are irrelevant to the plot.

Pulp Fiction: This is a fascinating film because while almost every scene is crawling with very bad people and they are all opposed to each other, we actually like most of them and none of them fit the villain mold. The only character(s) who truly come to mind as villains are the hillbilly perverts, but again, they only appear in one scene near the end of the film and they only matter because the heroes stumble into their store. They did not spend the movie trying to bring down the heroes, nor was the hero's film-goal to stop them. What is more interesting though is that some of the characters, like Ving Rhames’s character Marsellus Wallace and Samuel L. and John Travolta, are villains in some scenes but heroes in other scenes.

Close Encounters: The closest this film comes to having a villain is the military, which tries to keep Dreyfuss from getting to Devil’s Tower. But they aren’t villains. Their motives are decent, they don’t want to hurt anyone, and all they want is a little privacy. If Richard Dreyfuss leaves them alone, then will leave him alone. That does not a villain make even though they are presented ominously throughout the film. Equally interestingly, once Dreyfuss makes it to the landing site, they actually don’t even try to punish him.

The Sixth Sense: This movie is incredible on so many levels and one of them is the absence of a villain. In fact, the closest we come here is just the boy’s fear of the ghosts he sees. They don’t want to hurt him. In fact, they need his help. So what starts out as a film seemingly about a supernatural villain turns into a non-villain film.

Finally, a twist. . .

Inception: This is the one most people point to as a film without a villain. Yet, it has one: Mal. She’s not a great villain because the plot doesn’t center around her, but her purpose throughout the film is to disrupt everything Cobb tries. . . that makes her a very modern villain. Frankly, I think the idea Inception doesn’t have a villain is PR, much like the claim that Seinfeld “was a show about nothing” -- it was actually like every other sitcom (indeed it was basically Friends) only with unlikable people.

It’s interesting that so many modern films rely on easy villains. Maybe this is why so many modern films aren’t very good, because they aren’t good at creating conflict and need to fake it by adding an evil nemesis. There is a lesson here: great stories don’t have villains. And I think the reason for that is that they have something real to say about human conflict.

What other films without villains can you think of?


Tennessee Jed said...

Eight Men Out, Local Hero, The Devil's Own just for starters. Very interesting Andrew.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed! I was actually expecting to find that most films had villains, because that seems to be the case at first glance. But it actually seems to be true the other way -- most great films did not have a villain. And thinking about it, it actually makes sense because the best drama comes from our own choices and not from fighting some opponent.

DUQ said...

Interesting idea! I never thought about it, but I assumed all films had some sort of bad guy. Apparently, they don't.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks DUQ. I was a little surprised too, especially to see the huge number of non-villain films in the top 100 AFI movies.

T-Rav said...

Since I just saw it and it's still fresh in my mind, The Others. Much like The Sixth Sense, the ghosts aren't trying to hurt the new human residents, nor vice versa. They're both just trying to understand.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Good call! That is a truly inspired film with many layers. I should review that at some point now that I know you've seen it! :)

What's really interesting about that one is how sinister all the good people seem in that one, until you understand why you're looking at it wrong.

BevfromNYC said...

Good stories always needs a good conflict, but does not always need a villain. That conflict is what the protagonist must overcome or not to get to the end or moral. Sometimes the conflict can be an actual physical villain. But more often the protagonist must overcoming fear, prejudices, or natural disaster, or bad timing to gain new perspective and grow (or die).

That is why you can have a good story without a villain.

It was a dark and stormy night. I was just getting home when I heard a rustling in the bushes...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, You obviously have an English background! :)

You're absolutely right. Conflict comes from what the protagonist must overcome (or fails to overcome), which becomes the basis of the story. A villain is merely one form of conflict.

What I found so interesting though was after talking about villains, I was asked to come up with some films without villains. When I started looking at modern films, it quickly became obvious that most modern films have an actual villain -- in all genres. But then I saw that few of the classics (even modern classics) have villains.

That's when it really hit me that there is a reason these are classics and are so good compared to the more villain-packed films of today: writing a villain is the lazy way out for a writer. It's very easy to have conflict when you have a one character determined to stop another. But it takes a lot more skill to deal with other types of conflict, which are more likely to require the character to grow as a person.

I think that's why these non-villains films dominate the list, because they've had to reach deeper and find something more interesting about human nature.

Ed said...

Villain free movies? Good question! I think Star Trek TMP counts, which you reviewed a couple weeks ago.

Check this out. Think Tom Hanks:

Apollo 13
That Thing You Do
Cast Away
The Terminal
Sleepless In Seatle
Bachelor Party

He's made a career of films without villains.

BevfromNYC said...

I have a literature/theatre background, however I do not have a reading comprehension background...;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Interesting observation! I wonder if that accounts for his "nice guy" image or at least contributes to it? Because I really do think of most of his films as rather pleasant.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Literature/theater sounds like a lot more fun than having a legal background. :)

T-Rav said...

I wonder if you could include Jurassic Park in this category? I mean, the computer guy who crashes the system is sort of a bad dude, but he's really just setting up the action rather than actually taking part in it. And you can't really call the dinosaurs villains--they're just wild, dangerous animals, after all. It is a humans vs. dinosaurs thing, though, so maybe they're like semi-villains.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That question came up at BH when my villain article posted -- can you consider something like the alien in Alien or the shark in Jaws a villain since they are theoretically just acting according to their instincts?

I think that animals cannot be villains because they have no motivation to do anything evil. In other words, while we may considering killing evil, we don't really consider it evil when animals do it because they are just doing what comes naturally.

But that does raise the question -- can we consider HAL 9000 or the terminator villains? They are only following their programming.

Ed said...

Andrew, Good question on the robots. I was going to say you should look at the programmers, but that doesn't answer the question. I see both HAL and the terminator as villains no matter who programmed them or for what. Ironically, if the programmer had sent a missile instead, I would not see the missile as the villain. Maybe it's the element of independent judgment on how to execute the mission?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, It is an interesting question and I wonder if the independent judgment isn't the key? We don't tend to attribute independent judgment to animals. Instead, we see them as prisoners of instinct. Similarly, we don't see a missile or computer as having independent judgment either. But HAL, the terminator, and even some animals that are given human traits like a desire to seek revenge, all seem like villains. Maybe that is the difference -- that they have the power to exercise independent judgment? In other words, maybe going from just being an animal or a tool to becoming a genuine villain requires the power to act independently of pure, straight-forward programming or instinct?


T-Rav said...

Hmmm. Interesting question. I would say no on HAL, yes on the Terminator. HAL is following its programming, but the Terminator is a part of Skynet, and Skynet made a conscious, deliberate decision to defy its purpose for existence and try to destroy humanity. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that's my short answer.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Not to quibble, but I would see that the other way around. HAL has diverged from his programming to go on a killing spree, whereas the terminators are just following their programming. Skynet, I'm frankly not sure what that really is. Originally, it sounded like HAL -- computer program goes crazy. But then in the last film it sounds like a computer virus that somehow because "sentient." Very confusing.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: You stumped me. After I read your post and your own list, I couldn't think of anything else. But the article is extremely thought-provoking. Thanks for the fun. Naturally, as soon as I sign off, I'll get hit with that "I could've said" experience.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Lawhawk! This does raise some surprisingly interesting issues once you start wrapping your mind around it.

And isn't that how it always happens -- things come to you later. I can't tell you how many thoughts I get the moment I turn my computer off!

Anonymous said...

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV are great examples of films with no traditional villain (unless you count humanity in the case of the latter). I honestly can't think of any other examples that haven't yet been covered.

I suppose villains are popular because filmmakers, studio execs, etc. simply feel audiences expect them at this point. That's not to say audiences will feel cheated if they see a film without a villain, but it takes a lot of skill to craft a story without resorting to some cliched "bad guy" (see: some of the Trek sequels).

To twist the subject slightly (and go borderline political for a moment), I've been thinking about films and the number of villains in them. It seems that, today, it's not enough to have the heroes fighting the villains - you need to have villains on the hero's side to add a bit of extra intrigue. I'll use my old guilty pleasure standby Executive Decision. You have the heroes who board the plane to defeat the terrorists who've hijacked it. Group A and Group B.

Perhaps, if the film had been made by someone with an agenda, you'd have Group A, Group B, and some crooked CIA agent who engineered the hijacking in the first place: Group C.

I hope any of this made sense (I've been on the road for two days so my mind is still syncing back to normal)!

tryanmax said...

I come late to these things and then I want to respond to everyone:

Re: Inception – You are absolutely right about Mal being the villain, and now that I think about it, the story could have been told without her, and it may have even been better. I mean, breaking into people’s dreams to steal something doesn’t sound easy. Then they twist that into breaking in to implant an idea, that’s harder. Why did they even need a villain? For that matter, why did DiCaprio even need a troubled past? There’s another modern movie cliché.

Re: Good conflict (Bev) – Villain conflict is the flimsiest sort because it doesn’t require the protagonist to grow. Yes, most films have the hero acquiring skills or knowledge in order to defeat their enemy, but in films where the hero is an übermensch, nothing of the sort is needed. It is that need for growth that make a plot compelling.

Re: Jurassic Park/Terminator/etc. – One of the seven classic modes of conflict is man vs. nature, so it is distinct from man vs. man (hero vs. villain). Man vs. technology can be considered a modern variation of this classic form as long as programming is equivalent to instinct. However, in a world where robots have complete free will, then they can be simple villains. Star Trek TNG gave us an example of each: compare Lor to the Borg.

What makes HAL 9000 so intriguing as an antagonist is that we are never really sure if he is operating based on programming or if he has become aware and is making his own decisions.

tryanmax said...

Now for my own thoughts:

I would like to offer that many horror films do not have a villain in the classic sense. Of the seven classic modes of conflict, one of them is man vs. the supernatural (be it ghosts, gods, devils or in some cases, extraterrestrials). I’ve never had it explained why this is distinct, but I assume it is because, in the classic sense, there is nothing a mere man can do to overcome the supernatural. The most he can do is entreat the supernatural forces to end the antagonism. The conflict would therefore arise from the man accepting his impotence and humbling himself before such forces.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting points.

First, I think this is part of the "commercialization effect." Hollywood no longer takes chances because they want to maximize profits. That means they go with what works. What works is a clear villain. Making a film without a villain is a risk. Hence: villains. Also, you can always add a villain to any film. So I would bet the suits are saying "why don't we add a villain and spice this up?" whenever there isn't one.

On the point about the twist/bad guys working with good guys (which I think is related)... it's a cheap way to add 2-3 moments of drama/suspense to a film in a way that has been tried and tested. So from the suits' perspective, why not toss it into the mix too.

What I'm saying is that basically, I think films are now a conglomeration of parts rather than independent stories and these are just parts that now get routinely added to the product.

AndrewPrice said...


I agree that villains are the easiest to write and ultimately the least interesting because the hero doesn't need to overcome much to compete -- especially when the hero is a "superhero" as most modern heroes are (e.g. super cops, and martial artists). That probably means the best stories involving villains are not only those where the villain is tough, but where the hero must grow to be able to beat them -- like Luke learning the force.

I actually think Inception would be better if they had removed Mal. She adds very little except cliche scenes and I think she distracted the writers. They would have been better off focusing on the difficulties of overcoming the target's mental state. That would have been more interesting.

On the Terminator/Jurassic Park, I think the key is that the animal/machine exhibit must some human traits before we consider it a villain. For example, a shark is not a villain. But a shark that seeks revenge for a prior injury is. A computer that just pushes buttons and kills people is just a machine, but a computer that is not programmed to kill, but decides to kill for some reason beyond its programming is a villain.

The terminator is probably a villain because it can decide how to achieve it's mission. If Arnold had only gone to kill Sarah Connor and never killed anyone else, then he would probably just be a machine. But since he decided to unleash a lot of carnage as part of his mission, that makes him a villain because he didn't need to do that. In effect, he chose to be cold-blooded and evil.

HAL is great and I hate the fact they tried to explain him in 2010.

tryanmax said...

The Plot Machine!

tryanmax said...

I've never seen 2010. Perhaps I never will.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, On horror films, I think it depends on a lot of factors. And to me, the distinction (at least in Hollywood) is whether the supernatural force is generic ("there is evil here"... like in Pet Cemetery) or if there is a specific entity that is seeking to hurt people (like a demon that possesses someone).

In other words, I think supernatural forces are not villains, but supernatural beings can be.

AndrewPrice said...

2010 is an ok film, but it so completely does not fit with 2001 that it's almost jarring. Everything is different -- from the way they just adopted 1980s politics to the fact they seems to have stepped backwards in technology, to the very action-movie style of dialog and filming.

Also, they try to give a very liberal reason why HAL went crazy -- which is annoying and whiny.

tryanmax said...

The Terminator is a hard one for me to peg because the franchise is inconsistent in the treatment of it. I would say bar-none that it is a villain in the original and that the new Terminators introduced in the second and third films were, as well.

But in the second and third films, we get more info about Skynet that would suggest that it is only following programming that inept humans wrote to their own detriment.

Also, the concept of inevitability gets thrown into the mix, which in various ways casts back onto the earlier films. So do we end up with a tale about man vs. fate?

One could also look at it as man vs. society since the machines clearly represent a new status quo.

Of course, in Terminator: Salvation, shit just gets weird and cliched. I like the Terminator motorcycles, though.

In any case, I think all these potential angles can account for the franchise's continuing popularity despite abysmal storytelling.

And not to leave out "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," I never thought a show with Summer Glau in it could actually lose my interest.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think the first two films are solid. And up to that point, I agree that the terminators are villains, though oddly Skynet may not be -- because it sounds like it is just following it's poorly written programming... though it is odd that a nonvillain would create a villain as a tool?

In the third film, however, Skynet suddenly becomes a sentient computer virus rather than a DOD program run wild. I think that makes Skynet into a villain as well. The chick terminator is definitely a villain, she's just a lame one.

Then in Salvation, everything goes out the window. Skynet becomes an electronic James Bond villain and the terminators suddenly become nothing more than mindless, automated weapons. The one exception is Worthington (who is a robot in real life if his acting is any clue) and he's not a villain so much as bait. So things get really thrown off there.

tryanmax said...

Re: Horror films - it definitely goes both ways depending on the nature of the supernatural. For me the key is in whether the hero is capable of defeating the entity on his/her own.

For me, it doesn't really become a man vs. supernatural tale unless it walks that line between internal and external conflict. If I can vanquish a ghost with an herb from the curiosity shoppe, or by closing some unsolved murder, then it's just a villain. But if I have to search my soul to learn why the ghost is haunting me (instead of Andrew), then it has that element of the external being brought on by the internal. Those are very hard stories to write. I daresay only Poe ever got it completely right.

Kenn Christenson said...

Another film which turns the hero/villain roles on their head is "Bridge on the River Kwai." Clearly, Col. Saito appears to be the film's primary villain - but as he, necessarily, must work with the British to accomplish his goals, he must soften his tactics. Conversely, Col. Nickolson looks to be our hero - standing up for the Geneva Convention at all costs. But, either through the torture of "the punishment hut" or his own ego, or both - Nickolson decides to build a better bridge than the Japanese could. He even drafts his own men from the hospital to "pitch in."

As Clipton wonders: "Are they both mad or am I going mad? Or is it the sun?"

AndrewPrice said...

I see your distinction and I think it's a good one. If you can kill it, then it's a villain. If it's something deeper that requires you to overcome your own nature in some way, then it's not a villain in the simple sense.

Thus, a vampire is a villain, but escaping an evil Indian burial ground that has trapped you because you are angry about something and it can hold you until you release your anger would not be a villain.

tryanmax said...

I wish I had thought of that.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I guess I could see that about HAL, but not Terminator/SkyNet. It didn't follow its programming, it decided to wipe everyone out to ensure its survival. Of course, like you and others mentioned, there's no way to say this for certain, because the movies kept changing the mythology, which I hate. (sigh) Remind me again, why were the last two made? Other than to make more money, I mean.

Totally off-topic, but has anyone else been watching these new Romero productions this week on AMC? I don't know if it's heresy in the zombie genre to say this (if so, please don't eat my brains), but I think that guy has really gone off the rails.

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Believe it or not, I thought a LOT about including that film in this article!

First, that's a truly fantastic film. Secondly, who is really the villain if anyone?

Saito appears to be the villain at first, but by the time Nickolson breaks him, you actually start to feel sorry for Saito. He's being put upon by his bosses and now he has to live with the shame of letting Nicholson boss him around. He essentially ends up at the mercy of Nicholson.

And then Alex Guinness does such a brilliant job of going from the hero to becoming either insane or so proud that he actually becomes a tyrant. Brilliant film! And a brilliant twist on the villain idea because who the villain is shifts throughout the film.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, You may be right about Skynet. :)

On Romero... uh, no. That's not heresy. In fact, a lot of people mention that.

First, yes, I have been watching the horror movies on AMC -- I love October!

Secondly, I think Romero never understood what made Night of the Living Dead so special. I think he bought into the idea that this was a statement about consumerism or Vietnam or some such garbage. So after milking the idea for a decade or so, he decided he needed to take zombies to the next step. But since he didn't know what got them to the first step, he had no idea how to improve them. So he ended up coming up with really stupid ideas that either came across as clownish or completely sucked the unlife out of the genre... like the smart zombie.

Ponderosa said...

Andrew – fascinating article.

The funny thing is I don’t agree with your specific conclusions:
1. Villains are a modern trope
2. Great stories don’t have villains.
Major Strasser in Casablanca is my rebuttal.

Nonetheless I agree with you wholeheartedly.
Make sense? Probably not.

Conflict comes from various sources:
Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, etc. (and/or woman)

Great reminder - thanks!

Field of Dreams

tryanmax said...

If anybody here ever took a writing course, maybe you can help me reconstruct the seven types of conflict. So far, I'm stuck with six and it's bugging me.

Man against Man / Man & Woman
Man against Nature / Machine
Man against Society
Man caught in the Middle

Man vs. Self

Man against God / Supernatural / Destiny

I keep thinking that maybe the last conflict is Man at War, but I also think that falls under either Man vs. Society or Man in the Middle.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!

Let me clarify my specific conclusions because I may have overstated them or been less clear than I should have been.

I'm not saying villains are new, but I am saying that the near total reliance on villains is new. I also think modern villains are more cardboard than older villains. These days, villains are pure, cartoon evil. That wasn't true in the past nearly as much as today.

Secondly, I don't mean that no great films have villains. I can think of many. But it does seem that movies without villains are dominating the "great" category. So I suspect there is an advantage there related to what it takes to write a film without a villain.

But I definitely don't mean to imply that films with villains can't be great or that villains are a new invention.

Field of Dreams -- another great choice!

AndrewPrice said...


1 Man v. Self
2 Man v. Man
3 Man v. Society
4 Man v. Nature
5 Man v. Supernatural
6 Man v. Machine/Technology
7 Man v. Destiny

Koshcat said...

I don't agree with you on Inception regarding Mal being a villain because she only exists in DiCaprio's brain. He must overcome his own guilt to get past her, complete the mission, and get home. Talk about being your own worst enemy.

What about The Hurt Locker? We never really see the face of the those planting the bombs. The bombs aren't villains. Little Miss Sunshine? Some movies have an enemy but no true villain such as Master and Commander. Also there are a lot of older, mostly cheesy and sometimes less memorable movie often have almost cartoonish villains. I'm not as certain it is a new thing to have a villain or done more often. I think the better stories are often dealing with more complex issues and these are the movies that tend to age well.

tryanmax said...


That's the one from Wikipedia, but I know it's not the one I was taught because it has "Man v. Technology". The list I'm trying to recall comes from some ancient treatise on theater.

In any case, I know there are other theories of drama that include as few as two types of conflict and as many as several dozen. It can all be quibbled over.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, So you're saying we are comparing the best of the past verses everything today? That could be, except then it seems to me the best of the past really had a LOT of non-villain films. Also, honestly, I think I've observed a difference in my lifetime. I honestly don't recall so many villains (and so many generic villains in the 1970s, 1980 and early 1990s) as I do today.

On Inception, she's still a villain because even though she's in his mind, she is a physical presence throughout the film. In other words, he's not just fighting a memory, he's fighting a person who happens to be a memory. I don't think it matters that she's not technically real for her being a villain.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Yep -- wikipedia. I can't help you otherwise. When I learned it, there were only three:

man v. man
man v. nature
man v. himself

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great post, Andrew!

A lot of good submissions. Basically, most comedies and sports flicks don't really have a villain per se.
There are however antagonists in many non-villain films that, if done right, advance the plot and provide challenges for the lead characters (who may themselves be the antagonists).

In some cases I view the antagonists as a sort of pseudo villain.

For example the opposing team or opponent that cheats or doesn't have good sportsmanship or honor.
Or the boss or co-worker that makes the lead characters life more difficult.

Not actual villains but I always wanna see these antagonists get what's coming to them.

Sometimes what appears to be an antagonist turns out to be a good person who is challenging the lead character(s) to grow to be better people.

And, as was mentioned, sometimes the villain becomes the good guy or gal (The Rock for example).

Anyhow, here's a few more flicks I thought of:

Brian's Song
Cool Running
Old Yeller
Captains Courageous
Tropical Thunder (note: if you listen to the commentary of the film it's also hilarious becouse Robert Downey stays in character during the commentary, LOL. He was absolutely brilliant in this non-pc and refreshing comedy!).

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

IRT 7. Man vs Destiny, I think that it would be more accurate to say Man vs Fate.

Here's why:

Most people actually wanna fulfill there destiny, if they ever come to realize it that is.

Destiny is (and must be) freely chosen whereas fate is imposed and should be fought since it's not freely chosen.

Unfortunately, many in hollywood (and elsewhere) interchange these words to mean virtually the same thing; the stifling of liberty and free will.

I know that some religions (Islam) and some denominations of Christianity) believe in pre-destiny and a God that orchestrates everything.
IOW's, everything is God or Allah's will and nothing is done without his stamp of approval.

If that were the case then we are all robots and bear no responsibility for our own choices.

Destiny (at least in the orthodox Christian and Jewish view) is a cooperation and partnership between God and man.
If man or woman discover their own unique destiny they are always free to choose not to fulfill it (although to do so would not be the best choice one could make).
God will not make you do it.

Also, not to get too in depth or off topic, one can have more than one destiny throughout their lifetime. If one chooses.

Fate is quite different, and I think a lot of folks have been taught or misled that it's basically the same thing as destiny. It is not.

Hopefully I'm being clear enough in the difference. If not, feel free to virtually smack me. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Great list! And thanks! :)

You make an interesting point that there is a very fuzzy line between the antagonist and what we tend to think of as a villain. That's why I think a villain needs to be both (1) present throughout the film as a constant challenge to the protagonist and (2) malicious in intent.

There are a lot of bad people in films who only show up for one brief moment. In many ways, they are villains... but they really aren't in the way we think of them because they are only one hurdle -- like the opposing teams example.

Similarly, I think someone who is just pushing the hero to grow or someone who is more of an annoyance or nuisance rather than a malicious presence is hard to see as a villain. For example, a boss who is just a jerk and keeps annoying the hero isn't really a villain per se, but a boss who actively plots to destroy the hero would be.

At least, that's how I see it. But it is definitely a fine line.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, You're being quite clear. There is a definite difference between destiny and fate. Destiny is chosen, fate is inevitable. Also, destiny is usually meant to be something positive, whereas fate is normally something negative. So that's a very valid distinction! :)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent summary Andrew!
I view destiny as a gift that is freely accepted (or not).

Fate, like you so aptly point out, is almost always negative and imposed. Definitely anti-liberty.

AndrewPrice said...

Well said Ben! :)

tryanmax said...

Good distinction, Ben. For the sake of the list, though, I think it should be grouped with God / Supernatural / Destiny / Fate just because a different philosophy would naturally produce a different story and even outcome, but the conflict strikes me as essentially the same.

The more I think about it, though, the more I'm starting to think Andrew's 3 point list is better, because some philosophies would put nature into that grouping, as well. It's amazing the breadth of stories that can be told when the categories are so few.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The three item list is the one I was taught in high school and it makes sense. But I think the expanded list make sense because some things don't quite fit. Though in the end, we're probably just discussing semantics at that point.

tryanmax said...

Because it's fun!

Anonymous said...

I blame Silence of the Lambs.
Hannibal Lector was such a fascinating villain that he became the main character in the sequels and prequels(books and film). They even remade the excellent Manhunter just so Anthony Hopkins could replace Brian Cox (who also created an amazing performance) and they could give Lector a larger presence.
In addition, I seem to remember that actors and actresses love to play villains since they usually get more opportunities to chew the scenery.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, True, it is an enjoyable exercise, (formerly known as "fun").

So consider this, where would supernatural fit in the 3 item list? It could actually be all three I think, though in a way it really isn't any of them.

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft, You may well be right because everyone seems to play Hannibal Lecter today when they play a villain. So that was clearly highly influential.

And you're right about why actors love villains -- though frankly, I think they're all just copying each other at this point.

Koshcat said...

We will just have to agree to disagree. I just don't see Mal as a villain. An obstacle, a conflict but not a villain. Earlier you even agreed that if you can kill it, it probably is a villain but if you have to go deeper and overcome it than it may not be. DiCaprio can't "kill" Mal. He has to go deeper, and does so into the bottom level to overcome her memory.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, We can agree to disagree. :)

On the killing point, she can be killed and that's the problem -- in fact, like all villains she gets shot and dies in her final scene. If she had just been a memory he was struggling with then I would agree, but they've given her physical form and let her act independently. Indeed, most of what she's doing isn't repeating a memory that haunts him, she's out there shooting at him, taunting him, interacting with living people he's trying to work with. So to me, she's not some undefined emotional force that needs to be overcome internally, she's a villain in the classic sense who just needs to be killed.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Interesting Andrew.

Inception is a great example because Nolan handle villains exceedingly well.

His villains (Mal, The Joker, Harvey Two-Face and Ras al-Gul) highlight and aggravate the inner turmoil of the hero. Cobb is literally haunted by the memory of his wife and wracked with guilt and remorse. The Joker forces Batman to question his most deeply held principles -- principles he formed in part when training for his life mission in the first Batman movie.

So while Nolan literally has comic book villains -- he uses them properly -- to focus on the true crux of the story -- Batman's inner conflict which he has to resolve before he can adequately deal with the external conflict presented by the Joker et al. His villains test the hero and who he is -- and not merely his physical capabilities. Batman sees the humanity -- even in The Joker -- and can't bring himself to drop him off the ledge even as he is being tempted to do so by the Joker himself... there is a LOT going on in Nolan films.

AndrewPrice said...

Great points Floyd!

I think Nolan is truly a cut-above as a director. I especially like his older stuff like Memento, and his Dark Knight was brilliant as comic book heroes go -- a truly unique film.

I think you make a very good point that Nolan is using his villains well. They aren't what you see on film so much these days -- the James Bond type maniacal villain who just acts like a jerk because he can without rhyme or reason. Nolan's villains really are adding depth to the stories because they are about emotion and mental states rather than just acquiring wealth or pure sadism.

Eric P said...

Late to the party, buy My Cousin Vinny.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, Excellent movie! And you're right. That's one of those where all the bad guys turn out not to be bad guys. Plus, it's just a really funny movie! :)

Micah said...

How would to classify Fight Club?

AndrewPrice said...

Micah, Fascinating question! I love Fight Club because it's such an unexpected movie.

In terms of having a villain, I honestly don't know? On the one hand, Norton certainly sees Tyler as the villain. But Tyler really isn't out to destroy Norton, he's out to free him. So he's not really a traditional villain by any stretch. I suppose we could see Norton himself as the villain, but he's probably more of an anti-hero than a villain.

All in all, I would say that Fight Club has no real villain, though it has a character (Tyler) who occasionally mimics a villain at points throughout the film.

What are your thoughts?

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