There’s Always a Villain in Every Movie

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Article

I have a game I like to play during movies. Not all movies mind you, not even boring movies, although I do find I play it more there. Just movies that tend to fall outside of the simple good guy/bad guy structure. The game is simple, and it leads to some odd places now and then.

I impose a classic Hero/Villain structure upon the movie.

I decide who is the hero, by the simple expedient of “they’re the one we spend the most time with” and impose a villain with the criteria “they’re the one who is the most antagonistic over all to our hero” and away we go. I don’t allow that a movie has man against the elements, or he’s really struggling against himself or whatever. Nope, there is a good guy and a bad guy. Yes, in pure story telling terms I’m breaking down and over simplifying things, but it’s my watching experience and I can do what I want inside my own head. I’ve got a lot of processing power in my bean, if I don’t occupy it with trivialities; I turn back to evil again.

Take something like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is there a hero? Well, yeah, Raoul Duke is the hero. It’s told in first person, he has to be the hero. So who is the bad guy? Well, the antagonist he spends the most time with of course. Dr. Gonzo is about a villainous as you can get, when you start to look at it that way. He is a demon that Raoul has brought along with him on this trip. Less so in the book than in Gilliam’s movie, but he is still portrayed this way in the film and that’s what we’re talking about.

You can change the dynamic of a movie when you start to watch it like this, because a villain is supposed to be evil. Once you’ve got it in your head that say Joe Pesci is the villain of Casino, that movie has an entirely different vibe to it, as it becomes the tale of a gangster deliberately screwing over a man he calls his friend, instead of inadvertently doing it. Yes, you’ve got to wonder how well he’s doing it, seeing how he turns out, but he could be doing it is the point.

Now of course, there is the opposite side of the game. Not exactly taking a movie that has a traditional good guy/bad guy structure and pretending there isn’t one, but looking at it from the other guy’s point of view. Let’s take Rollerball, for example. Flipped over like that, you have the tale of a tired and worried executive, trying to get on with the business of running the world for the benefit of all involved, and this prima donna sports star keeps screwing things up. Not only is he screwing things up, but he’s doing so for no better reason than his own self aggrandizement. It’s not always easy to do, because some actors play up being the bad guy too much. Anything where James Earl Jones plays the baddie is easily adapted to this idea, because he always played the bad guy as if he were the good guy.

Sometimes, these are the only things standing between people being able to enjoy a movie, and having to listen to me bitch about how substandard a movie is and how it fails on every step of the Bechdel Test. Most movies fail to pass that one, so it’s a depressingly easy go-to.

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