Similarly to the good post I made a while back, I thought I’d highlight some fantastic bad guys I’ve read about and explore why they worked. Do we ever truly like an evil character? Do we draw similarities with these villains or are we secretly living vicariously through them and their exploits?
A vast number of the memorable bad guys I can recall off the top of my head come from Disney movies. I saw this fantastic mug shot image of some of the more notorious (although I don’t know Dr. Facilier – I do now!) villains and thought it was quite amusing.
Why are they such awesome baddies? Are they evil? What is evil? Are they just down on their luck and turned to devious wheeling to get by? If they’re not evil, how did they come to be a bad guy?
When it comes to the villains in Disney movies, I think they’re deep down pretty vile beings. When I think about Cruella De Vile I think puppy killer, when I think about the Evil Queen I think bitter jealousy that lead to attempted murder. I did some digging about these villains and the Disney Wiki site was a veritable font of insight into the characters. For example, Jafar who is very strongly matched in the movie Aladdin, by the amiable Genie and boyish good looks and charm of Aladdin is listed thusly:
Jafar is portrayed as an amoral psychopath who’ll not hesitate to destroy anyone he perceives as a threat to his own sinister designs. Like numerous clinically diagnosed psychopaths, Jafar wears a metaphorical mask of normalcy throughout the film, establishing himself as a cool-headed schemer and gaining the trust of those around him, despite his rather untrustworthy physical appearance.
An interesting thing to note here would be the mention of his rather untrustworthy physical appearance. Do we associate these bad guys as bad guys because of how they look? Looking back at the mug shots above, I’d have to say that Disney seems to make our baddies look like baddies and our heroes look like heroes. This could also tie in with my slight confusion about my heroes in good guys post and how a few of my favourites are actually murderers/assassins/thieves etc, but perhaps the draw to them is in the way they look? Hmm… I will have to ponder this some more.
Moving onto books now, let’s have a look if the villains in books are the same stereotypes as they are in the movies.
Osmundus from Magi Heart of Shadow is the primary antagonist in the story. He’s pretty evil, and would probably be the most evil baddie I’ve come across in all my reading. His character in the book wasn’t 100% fully formed, he had rough edges, but in a way I think that left room for my mind to fill in the blanks.
I read the book back in November 2011, and while I may not be able to remember every little detail about the book and its plot, I can remember my instant dislike that turned to hatred upon being introduced to Osmundus. He made horrendous decisions, he had little to no regard for other human life, he ended up being a super bad version of Jafar, mainly because he was quite insane.
A book that might sway things a little in this debate is Nineteen minutes by Jodi Picoult. One of the main characters, Peter, could be considered both a protagonist and an antagonist of the book, he’s just one of the causes of all the drama in the story. For those of you who’ve read this book, you’ll know of course what I’m referring to. The kicker with this book is in how brilliantly Jodi writes, it resonated with me, I cried, I laughed, I hated characters and I grew to love others. I went into this book with a firm belief of what I thought was right and what was wrong in the particular situation depicted in Nineteen minutes, but by the end of it, Jodi had convinced me to see the other side of the coin.
By some, Peter is believed to be inherently evil, he’s a bad boy, he’s horrible, but what Jodi shows us is that (at least in this circumstance) there was a reason behind the action, he wasn’t born evil, he wasn’t insane, he was merely a victim hitting back against those who had abused him.
Does this make him a villain?
He murders people, but not without provocation. Hold on, even that has a stipulation around it. (quite confusing to try to explain this story to someone who hasn’t read it without giving everything away). Does this equate with being a villain or just a severely abused young adult? Could he have handled himself differently – sure, but when is enough truly enough?
I think Jodi highlights just how fragile our understanding of what a true villain may be, and just how individual our opinions are. Sometimes the perpetrator of the most heinous crimes are in fact the biggest victims. Which of course leads me back in the direction of pondering thought, as I try to work out in my mind is it the person who is evil or merely their deeds?
What are your thoughts on villains. Have you read about or seen movies with some truly epic bad guys? Why do you consider them to be epic bad guys? Are there varying shades of badness? If so, how much badness can one possess before they become a villain?