Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

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  • Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

    If a story has an innocent person seek revenge for an extreme personal injustice, (they have no access to justice within the law) then are they an anti-hero, and therefore the 'hero's journey' monomyth does not, or cannot, apply?

    Also, if the protagonist is indeed an anti-hero, is there no reason for them to 'save the cat', and the injustice that they suffered is reason enough for the audience to want to see them succeed in their goal of revenge?

    Any advice or opinions will be much appreciated.
    Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
    "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

  • #2
    Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

    If you try to apply the hero's journey to your story, you will get a hero's journey. One of a million hero's journeys.

    If you just write your story in the best way possible, Save the Cat bedamned, you might create something new and fresh.

    My advice: be true to your characters, be true to your story, don't cheat your story logic, and treat the audience like we're smart and clever and have seen a million hero's journeys and saved cats (because we have).

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    • #3
      Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

      MoviePen - Thank you. Yes, I wholly agree. I'm not forcibly trying to apply the old 'hero's journey' and 'save the cat' formulae to my revenge story. I want my protagonist to behave credibly, as most befits their character and circumstances.

      My questions were somewhat academic. I'm more just curious -- is a 'revenge seeker' an anti-hero by default? -- and therefore they couldn't go on the 'hero's journey', even if one wanted them to.

      I'm also wondering if a protagonist seeking justifiable(?) revenge is enough of a reason for an audience to care about them achieving their goal, even when they're not overtly good or likeable.
      Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
      "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

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      • #4
        Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

        Originally posted by Crayon View Post
        I'm also wondering if a protagonist seeking justifiable(?) revenge is enough of a reason for an audience to care about them achieving their goal, even when they're not overtly good or likeable.
        In Mel Gibson's "Payback" it worked. It's probably my favorite Mel Gibson movie.

        He was a reptile in this -- the only reason it worked is he went up against people who were far scummier.
        "I just couldn't live in a world without me."

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        • #5
          Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

          no, but if they're not an anti-hero, there is usually a moral price to be paid for the character if they undertake it (see every Coen Bros. movie ever made)

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          • #6
            Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

            Originally posted by Crayon View Post
            My questions were somewhat academic. I'm more just curious -- is a 'revenge seeker' an anti-hero by default? -- and therefore they couldn't go on the 'hero's journey', even if one wanted them to.
            An anti-hero is a protagonist who lacks heroic qualities. A revenge seeker can be a heroic protagonist or an anti-hero depending on the story. A revenge seeker is not an anti-hero by default.

            For example The Gladiator saught revenge for the slaughter of his wife and child. He was definitely not an anti-hero.
            Last edited by jonpiper; 06-01-2018, 01:38 PM. Reason: changed definition of anti hero

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            • #7
              Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

              Originally posted by StoryWriter View Post
              In Mel Gibson's "Payback" it worked. It's probably my favorite Mel Gibson movie.

              He was a reptile in this -- the only reason it worked is he went up against people who were far scummier.
              Death Wish (1974), starring Charles Bronson.

              When his wife is killed by street thugs, this good guy gets mad and gets even.
              “There's nothing to rewrite if there's nothing on the page."

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              • #8
                Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                I wrote a revenge movie called "Crossed the Line" where the protagonist was not an anti-hero. There was a price to pay at the end but that wasn't due to any particular paradigm or character archetype. The theme was "revenge begets revenge" and it resonated more if the final act of vengeance was against her.

                On a different note - there are many ways to get an audience to root for a character even if they're not overtly good or don't have a "save the cat" moment. One way is to show how much the goal means to a character. What they're willing to put on the line to achieve it and revealing why it's so important to them.

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                • #9
                  Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                  Originally posted by Crayon View Post
                  My questions were somewhat academic. I'm more just curious -- is a 'revenge seeker' an anti-hero by default? -- and therefore they couldn't go on the 'hero's journey', even if one wanted them to.
                  No. Just call revenge "justice" and you've basically got about every Western movie ever made. I think, though, if you want people to like your character, there has to be that moment when he "comes to his senses" and doesn't pull the trigger ... just long enough the evil antagonist to try one last time to kill him. Then it's pure self-defense and the audience gets the satisfaction of seeing the antagonist pay for his crimes, while we get to see the protagonist "pass the test." It can be very dramatic.

                  I remember when Magnum P.I. "jumped the shark" when they had Magnum kill the bad guy in cold blood (because he had diplomatic immunity or something). It shocked the audience. The show was never the same after that. I think it only lasted one more season.

                  I also remember (I think) the 2nd Lethal Weapon where the evil jerk says "Diplomatic Immunity," and (I believe) the Glover character shoots him anyhow. Somehow that seemed right because the guy was so -very- slimy. I also think the Glover character thought the Mel Gibson character had been killed. So emotions were high and the action seemed warranted.

                  Sorry to ramble. I do that sometimes.

                  One more example ... probably one of the best Westerns ever made, Tombstone – you could say it was a vengeance movie, but there was always the proviso drop the cowboy "red" sash and you can go free. But you wanted the bad guys to NOT drop the sash.
                  STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                    Great replies, one and all. They'll help me to better write my revenge seeker protagonist. Many thanks.

                    While this may be craft, not science, we could be a little scientific: first define 'anti-hero' and then see how revenge fits with that.

                    anti-hero - a central character in a story, film, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. (oxforddictionaries)

                    In movies, taking revenge is usually to be a vigilante outside of the law, often for reasons such as grief, wrath, and despair. Does that sound like a conventional hero? Where does revenge sit within the spheres of ethics and politics? Are the rules for and attitudes to revenge not very different between fiction and our real world? Do conventional heroes ignore the following guidance?:

                    "Do not seek revenge, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine, I shall repay, said the Lord." - Romans 12:19

                    I guess I may now be of the opinion that a revenge seeker is more often an anti-hero, but not one by default. (Revenge seekers could be clear thinking, and gather evidence and take their target to the authorities, rather than desperately shoot them in the face.)

                    My protagonist may straddle the line between hero and anti-hero. Whilst he's screwed-up and seeks revenge for himself, he'll also be stopping the bad guys from doing further wrongs.
                    Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
                    "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                      Originally posted by Crayon View Post
                      If a story has an innocent person seek revenge for an extreme personal injustice, (they have no access to justice within the law) then are they an anti-hero, and therefore the 'hero's journey' monomyth does not, or cannot, apply?

                      Also, if the protagonist is indeed an anti-hero, is there no reason for them to 'save the cat', and the injustice that they suffered is reason enough for the audience to want to see them succeed in their goal of revenge?

                      Any advice or opinions will be much appreciated.
                      I think you're conflating two different things.

                      Anti-heroes are generally (and I think someone quoted this) simply heroic protagonists -- and by this I mean protagonists who end up fighting on the right side of the moral compass, but who we might otherwise think of as being bad guys -- Blondie in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, for instance.

                      The vengeance question is a different one, because we have to distinguish between revenge and justice. What's the distinction?

                      Well, when someone is tried for murder, or for any crime, it's never, Bob X against -- Joe's family, or Joe's Wife or any other particular person, even though Bob, by virtue who he's supposed to have killed, may have wronged those particular people.

                      No, it's The State against Bob X -- because the presumption is that the act of murder wrongs us all, and that all of us are in the business, through the legal system, of determining what crime was committed and what the suitable punishment should be.

                      On the other hand, vengeance is personal. That's why they don't let the friends and family of the victim sit on the jury or decide the punishment. Because for them, it's personal.

                      It's also why, in so many of the stories where a hero pursues someone in a scenario similar to yours, in order to kill someone who's killed a family member, the standard trope is for the righteous man to turn away from "personal justice" -- that is, from an act of vengeance.

                      Of course, we fully understand that this leads to problems -- the obvious trope of the good guy lowering his gun and saying, "You're not worth it" -- only to have the bad guy try to kill him and sime slimy way, so that he can then be killed in self-defense -- which is okay, is a tired one.

                      Probably the best version of this is from the Lion King, though it's still a variation of it.

                      Simba gets Scar dead to rights -- he murdered his father and obviously we all want him to take revenge. Scar says that he'll do anything that Simba wants -- and Simba tells him to run away -- the same thing that Scar told Simba to do all those years before.

                      And Scar, being the bad -- then proceeds to try to kill Simba in some slimy way -- but even then, Simba just kicks down a cliff where the hyenas, who overheard Scar blaming everything on them -- proceed to finish him off.

                      So Simba's hands -- err, paws, are doubly clean. He didn't kill Scar when he had the chance, and even when Scar tried to kill him, even then, he wasn't responsible for his well-deserved death.

                      I think audiences are much less concerned about this trope these days. Nobody was really concerned about Inigo Montoya killing the six-fingered man. That was obviously personal vengeance.

                      Kill Bill, of course, was nothing but an extended act of vengeance and even though it's a pretty thin movie -- or two movies, I don't think that anybody finds it objectionable on that basis.

                      Is the Bride an anti-hero? Well, she is an assassin so -- sure, I guess.

                      Then you've got something like the distaff version of Death Wish with Jodie Foster -- does it work better when your vigilante killer is a woman fighting against an indifferent legal system? Does that make it okay -- or is it just an updated slightly revised feeding of our revenge fantasies?

                      See more recent version of the above aka Peppermint.

                      And there have been a number of other movies where nobody really seems to worry about this too much. Of course, once you go down the road of wanting to, in essence, commit cold-blooded murder, even if you're klling a bad guy, whatever you might have started out being, it's hard for you not to end up more-or-less on the dark side by the time you're done.

                      I mean -- would you rather it be otherwise? Some perfectly normal, peaceful person -- his family is killed and the killer gets away so he turns himself into a lethal efficient murder machine, tracks the bad guy down, executes him in cold blood and carefully so that he can be sure to get away -- and then goes back to leading his normal, peaceful life with nary a moral, spiritual, or emotional scratch?

                      I guess the more cogent question -- not one of justice vs vengeance, but rather what the purpose is of all of these movie fantasies of personal empowerment. The police can nothing. The state is indifferent so I'm gonna get me a gun and track down -- those generic criminals, those guys who got off on one them damned "loopholes" - those gangbangers, those mobsters, those cartel members, those jihadists -- and I'm gonna take 'em all out myself.

                      And needless to say, in the process I'll never accidentally kill the wrong guy or miss and shoot an innocent person, or shoot through a wall and kill a kid in the next apartment or do any of the things that happen all the time when anybody starts blasting away in dense urban environments, legally authorized or otherwise, with high-powered weapons.

                      These are just fantasies of empowerment and, as such, like superhero movies, can be enormously appealing - but if you're going down this road, understand that it's a road well traveled and two of things that almost always get left behind in both are, one, any connection to reality and two, any serious questions about the moral consequences of vigilantism.

                      NMS

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                      • #12
                        Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                        I still remember this from Magnum P.I.

                        At the time it kind of freaked people out and changed the whole tone of the show.

                        Magnum P.I.
                        "I just couldn't live in a world without me."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                          Originally posted by Crayon View Post
                          If a story has an innocent person seek revenge for an extreme personal injustice, (they have no access to justice within the law) then are they an anti-hero, and therefore the 'hero's journey' monomyth does not, or cannot, apply?
                          If the protagonist is wronged and takes action outside the bounds of the law in reaction to it, then she or he must be an antihero. But maybe that's not always the case, either. Perhaps the lawpersons in their town are corrupt. Perhaps “there's no other way” to achieve satisfaction, if not justice.

                          The antihero remains the protagonist, the one that we cheer on toward victory, but if they're willing to circumvent the law to achieve their ends, they'd have to be more antihero than hero, I would believe.

                          Compare the antihero to the tragic hero, whose fatal flaw leads to their demise. The tragic hero may not be operating outside the bounds of the law, as in the case of your story example, but their actions are their undoing by story's end.

                          Nevertheless, the hero's journey monomyth might well apply if you choose to tell the story along that route. As MoviePen says, “If you try to apply the hero's journey to your story, you will get a hero's journey. One of a million hero's journeys.” Her entire comment is worth your notice, the best part of it for me being “Save the Cat be damned.”

                          Originally posted by Crayon View Post
                          Also, if the protagonist is indeed an anti-hero, is there no reason for them to 'save the cat', and the injustice that they suffered is reason enough for the audience to want to see them succeed in their goal of revenge?
                          The above would be so for me. As to whether or not any animals are saved in the making of the film, that is entirely up to you, the writer, and how you'd execute the story as you conceive it, as so thoughtfully alluded to in MoviePen's excellent comment.
                          Last edited by Clint Hill; 06-06-2018, 02:57 PM.
                          “There's nothing to rewrite if there's nothing on the page."

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                          • #14
                            Re: Is revenge only for anti-heroes?

                            Originally posted by Crayon View Post
                            If a story has an innocent person seek revenge for an extreme personal injustice, (they have no access to justice within the law) then are they an anti-hero, and therefore the 'hero's journey' monomyth does not, or cannot, apply?

                            Antiheroes can leave an Ordinary World.
                            Antiheroes can have Calls to Adventure.
                            Antiheroes can cross First Thresholds into New Worlds.
                            Etc.


                            The word "hero" in hero's journey is misleading.
                            Story Structure 1
                            Story Structure 2
                            Story Structure 3

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