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Old 10-22-2012, 10:13 AM   #1
J Linc
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Question Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

The argument is often made that villains in fiction of any kind are better or more believable when they believe what they are doing that to others makes them so villainous is right or morally sound, versus the caricature of the black hat-wearing, mustache-twisting supervillain or über-manipulator.

However, that seems to imply that on the one end there is only that one level of extreme and no others -- but, is that really true? What about villains like Michael Myers of "Halloween?" How about Anton Chigurh of "No Country for Old Men?" The Joker of "The Dark Knight?" The strangers in -- well -- "The Strangers?" And, perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent, Hannibal Lecter of "Red Dragon," The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal?"

I personally am of the opinion that a villain is at their most unsettling when they actually feel what they are doing is wrong or causing misfortune and they absolutely love it because of that very reason.

Now, what I am talking about goes beyond just some sort of sadism and it doesn't mean they are a so-called "sociopath" or "psychopath" in which they are incapable of feeling empathy or compassion towards others; they just simply most of the time either just enjoy causing mayhem, misfortune and destruction more so than not or don't just don't care enough to make a distinction.

This also makes them much more unlikely to be able to be reasoned with or manipulated out of what their desires or intentions are, which also makes for a more effective villain in my estimation.

So, what says you? This was all inspired by the below two-part write-up on the subject...

http://bigthink.com/against-the-new-...illains-part-1

http://bigthink.com/against-the-new-...-part-2?page=1

Last edited by J Linc : 10-24-2012 at 05:58 AM.
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Old 10-22-2012, 10:34 AM   #2
Colin Holmes
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

It depends on how mentally ill you want your villain to be.

If you have a Dick Cheney type villain who honestly thinks he's doing God's work, then the audience understands his motivation and it sets up the climax clearly. It's Goldfinger wants the gold. The challenge is how to stop him.

If the villain is just evil and doing bad for bad's sake, the audience never knows why he's capable of doing. it gets unsettling. The Protag then has to have invention and luck on their side.

To me, it's how uncomfortable you want the audience to be. One of the great things about Die Hard is it does both - you think Alan Rickman is nuts when he randomly shoots the CEO. But then you discover the whole thing is a cover for a robbery and the audience can come along understanding the rules of good guy vs. bad guy.
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Old 10-22-2012, 11:40 AM   #3
J Linc
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

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Originally Posted by Colin Holmes View Post
It depends on how mentally ill you want your villain to be.

If you have a Dick Cheney type villain who honestly thinks he's doing God's work, then the audience understands his motivation and it sets up the climax clearly. It's Goldfinger wants the gold. The challenge is how to stop him.

If the villain is just evil and doing bad for bad's sake, the audience never knows why he's capable of doing. it gets unsettling. The Protag then has to have invention and luck on their side.

To me, it's how uncomfortable you want the audience to be. One of the great things about Die Hard is it does both - you think Alan Rickman is nuts when he randomly shoots the CEO. But then you discover the whole thing is a cover for a robbery and the audience can come along understanding the rules of good guy vs. bad guy.
I'm not talking about a character that is mentally ill or has anything physiologically/neurologically wrong or handicapped with them just to clarify, but overall I gotcha.

Guess I just find the latter to be more unsettling and disturbing most of the time versus the former.
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Old 10-22-2012, 11:50 AM   #4
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

I like whatever works. I don't like it when it doesn't.
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Old 10-22-2012, 12:47 PM   #5
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

I don't see any point in arguing which is better. We've seen both types of villains be effective in their own ways.
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Old 10-22-2012, 01:17 PM   #6
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

The Joker isn't pure evil, he's trying to get a point across. And in the end he did.
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Old 10-22-2012, 01:57 PM   #7
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

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Originally Posted by J Linc View Post
I personally am of the opinion that a villain is at their most unsettling when they actually feel what they are doing is wrong or causing misfortune and they absolutely love it because of that very reason.
On the contrary, this might make for much more superficial villainy. However I think it's a false dichotomy, a false premise. It all has to do with context and relationships and I don't see how the type of evil motivation can be the factor that determines how unsettling the villain is.
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Old 10-22-2012, 03:16 PM   #8
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

Why does a bad guy have to have any redeeming values or a point of view that makes him think he's doing good? Iago gets Othello to kill Desdemona and when questioned why he simply refuses to answer. Aaron the Moor laments that he didn't do more evil in his life.

Yeah, your bad guy can have some deep seated philosophical motivation, yeah he can sleep at night because he has some self-justification, yeah he has some point of view the audience can relate to...

...or your bad guy is a bad guy because he is simply a bad guy. He's a force of nature, he's a piece of crap, he's just a bad guy. Biff from the Back to the Future movies is just a bully and a jerk because he's a bully and a jerk. Belloq is Indy's shadowy mirror image, he's greedy, he's arrogant, he's Indy's nemesis because deep down Indy is all those things as well. Hans from Die Hard is charming and witty and a murdering thief who is in it for the money. He has no other motivation than the money and will kill everyone in his way.
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Old 10-22-2012, 04:10 PM   #9
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

Quote:
However, that seems to imply that on the one end there is only that one level of extreme and no others -- but, is that really true? What about villains like Michael Myers of "Halloween?" How about Anton Chigurh of "No Country for Old Men?" The Joker of "The Dark Knight?" The strangers in -- well -- "The Strangers?" And, perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent, Hannibal Lecter of "Red Dragon," The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal?"
Let's start with Lecter. Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs" didn't think he was evil. He thought he was above human morality. Understanding that difference is the key to understanding this sort of villain (although, to be fair, Lecter isn't actually the villain of "Lambs"). The whole point of Lecter is not that he thinks he's evil, but that he thinks of normal people the way normal people think of cows: dumb creatures with no particular right to their lives, but who can be entertaining or nutritious.

In his moral universe, what he's doing is just fine. Godwin's law and all, but think about Hitler: Hitler thought he was doing the world a favor by getting rid of Jews and putting Aryans in their rightful place on top of everyone else. (I don't know if you've seen "Downfall" but it's most chilling moments are the moments when you see people rationalizing horrible actions because in their moral view those are the best choices.)

Michael Meyers and the kids in The Strangers are, ultimately, not characters. They're masks. Slasher horror is a different sort of thing. They have no motivation. We don't understand why they do what they do in any meaningful way throughout the course of the script. They just do it. Even the answer in "The Strangers" ("because you were home" or some such) is ultimately not really an answer.

And that kind of stuff can be really good. (I really liked "The Strangers" for the most part.) But you don't really have to worry much about characterization for those characters.

But if I were writing "Die Hard" (to piggyback on Steven's post) I would think of Hans, for a little while, at least, as if he were the lead of an awesome heist movie. I think that would help me write him better, even if some of the big questions ("why is he robbing the vault?") would end up not being specifically answered in the way they would if he was a good guy (eg, Danny Ocean robbing vegas to get his wife back).
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Old 10-22-2012, 06:00 PM   #10
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Default Re: Villains: Better that They Don't Believe They Are "Evil?"

I can write fvcking bad guys. That's about the only thing I can write, though, so maybe that explains a lot about my writing. And me, too, but I don't want to think about that too much.

Honestly, I think why my bad guys are so well drawn (he says with utmost humility) is that I try to make them likable.

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