This week I shall move away from away from TV completely and be writing about film once again. Or more a lack of character development within film. I am not talking about one particular character from a film, or in relation to an actor or director. I am instead talking about a character who appears in most films. A shell of a character. I am talking about villains and bad guys. I feel that these characters are either under developed or lacking in substance. Now I realise that this is quite a bold statement to make, but there was no better way of getting to the point, you will, however, hopefully understand more what I mean by the end of the blog.
It’s basic film theory 101 to understand the balance of good and evil within films. It pretty much revolves around the flow of narrative that every story has to some extent. There is an equilibrium, this is disrupted by something and finally the equilibrium is either restored or the disequilibrium is transformed into something better. The narrative would normally follow the hero or good guy and the disruption is caused by the arrival of the villain or bad guy, the restoration or transformation of equilibrium is caused by the defeating of the bad guy. This is pretty basic stuff and gets revamped in many different ways. There are of course times where by the villain is the central lead and the hero is causing the disruption. This can be seen in films such as ‘Natural Born Killers’, ‘The Devils Rejects’ and even ‘Lord Of War’. Some films play up the bad guy to be good or creates some form of sympathy towards them such as ‘Lord Of War’. Either way they are bad guys, pretty straight forward so far. Now there is a definitive between the bad guys and good guys, this can sometimes be blurred or obscured but it’s still there. A good guy is someone who struggles to return the equilibrium within the film, where as the bad guys disrupts it. The good guy would have honest and virtuous traits where as the bad guys would have weak and evil traits. Again pretty straight forward. A character who is usually considered a bad guy can be twisted into a good guy to overcome a greater evil such as in ‘Leon’. Leon is an assassin; a villain, however as he saves Mathilda (Natalie Portman) and overcomes Stansfield (Gary Oldman) he is now considered to be a good guy.
There is however a justification as to why a villain is bad. It almost falls under the premiss that all people are good and something has to make them bad. This ‘something’ however can be anything. Gain of some kind is the most common factor; monetary gain, power, respect etc. All of these elements may encourage and drive the villain to be bad. It adds as a reason for them to be bad and as they are weak and evil they cannot resist the appeal of these gains, unlike the hero who possesses the goodness and virtuous powers to resist them and remain good. Some villains are more complex though and appear to not be fueled by a gain of some kind. For instance in ‘Natural Born Killers’ Mickey and Mallory are simply fueled by the desire to killer other people. There is however some justification as to why they act and behave the way they do. It is shown that Mallory was regularly raped and abused by her father and Mickey was abused by both his mother and father. This adds to the premiss of everyone being good at first. It becomes implied that if Mickey and Mallory weren’t abused then they could be completely normal people satisfied with their lives without the desire to kill others in a blood filled slaughter. The events that surrounded them as children they had no control over and therefore they aren’t completely responsible for how they turned out; the blame can be passed for their evil.
There is never a villain who simply is bad and thats that, with the exception of the devil if he ever appears in film *cough ‘End Of Days’ cough*. At least that is what I thought at first. There is literally one villain I can think of who doesn’t follow this trend. First I shall take a step back though. The main reason why these character traits apply is simply for the general audience. It acts as a mixture of things. First off a distinct bad guy can be spotted; the audience don’t have to struggle to figure out who is the villain. Now I realise that at times the bad guy’s identity isn’t given or it actually turns out to be one of the central characters who you wouldn’t have thought it to be. But even in these circumstances the audience can gauge that there is a bad guy committing these villainous acts. The other main element as to why these traits appear is simply for audience acceptance, as it is considered that the general public would break down and not accept a bad guy who does bad things simply for the hell of it. There has to be a reason why they’re bad and why they do horrendous things. Some modern horror films try to create killers who break away from this trait to try and shock the audience, hence fulfilling in their attempt to scare the audience, however even these characters give some form of insight (no matter how subtle) as to why they act in this deranged manner. Just look at ‘Seven’. John Doe is a character who is more known by his actions that as an actual character. Very little information is collected about him. All that is mainly known is that he acts under the belief of God and that he is financed and potentially educated well. However his obsession with God and Christianity is something which could easily be placed onto his upbringing. Even though this is never said nor even implied and could well be wrong, this could still be assumed and hence the audience is more likely willing to accept John Doe as the villain.
Now going back to the exception to the rule. Have you guessed who it could be yet? The only villain I could think of who breaks all of the character traits that are applied to a bad guy is The Joker from ‘The Dark Knight’. He is a villain who doesn’t commit evil for any form of gain. Sure he robs a bank and has a mob at his disposal but he doesn’t crave the power, respect or money. He simply uses these factors to generate chaos and anarchy. There also appears to be no justification as to why he is crazed and psychotic. This is mainly because no back story is given; he remains to be an enigma. It becomes very difficult to even imply subtly reasons as to why he is twisted as he changes his stories about his scars multiple times. Each story is equally as justifiable as each other as to why he acts the way he does; his father abused him as a child, his wife left him etc. As they all seem to juxtapose one another though, they act more as a middle finger to justification; why should a villain have had something happen to them to make them evil, how come men can’t just simply be evil? The more interesting element about The Joker is simply that he didn’t exactly appear in an unknown or art-house film which nobody saw so it didn’t matter because nobody would be terrorized by some bad guy completely breaking the mould. He appeared in a massive blockbuster. Yet people didn’t turn around and go ‘wait a minute he can’t be like that, there has to be a reason why he’s bad or the world will surely implode’. The main reason is because The Joker gets overthrown by Batman. So even though he appears to be pure chaos good overpowered him and an equilibrium can be restored.
It has disappointed me villains don’t follow a similar nature to The Joker and break away from the conventional (which is everything). It would be interesting to see a film which follows a villain like The Joker (in the sense of no justification for why he acts the way he does and no gain) as a lead character, who doesn’t get over thrown like The Joker does at the end of ‘The Dark Knight’ and the audience simply has to live with the fact that an equilibrium will never be restored or transformed instead appear in a constant spiral of disruption.