Villains

Sep. 4th, 2017 10:58 am
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
I've been thinking about antagonists, or anti-heroes, maybe, people in general. Ones I liked as people, ones I liked the writing of, ones I didn't like, what worked well and what didn't.

And it occurred to me, what commonly works well, is that they have a sympathetic/plausible/justified motivation. But that they go too far or do bad things in the cause of it.

That most of what they think, what you'd see in a story from their point of view, is what you might agree with. That doesn't apply to everyone, some people genuinely spend all day doing horrible things, but there are several advantages to using a character like that, the audience finds it easy to sympathise with them, and so does the writer.

But the other half of the equation is that they do bad, unjustified things, but they usually don't *think* about whether they're ok, they're usually not "here is my complicated justification for why X is ok", they just take it as the way the world is.

You can recognise a spectrum. Some antagonists are not really better or worse than the protagonist, we just empathise with the protagonist because it's their story, the differences is that each just happen to be opposed by circumstance, their moral choices aren't very different. Some antagonists do clearly horrible things.

A common choice is a character who *usually* does bad things but isn't *right now*, and you can get invested in their story and then see if they redeem themselves, or if you get to know them before deciding they're still a horrible person even if you came to like them.

It can also be done inconsistently where the villain see-saws back and forth across "can the audience empathise" because the writer picks some things which are kinda bad and some things which are really horrible without regard to an overall arc.

The first couple of Game of Thrones books do this very well, most of the viewpoint characters I find very sympathetic, even if I hated some of them when reading about what they did from the outside.

An example prominent in my mind was Magneto. I recently saw someone saying "Magneto was right", and I thought that a lot after the first film I saw: that if he *could* fight back and do anything to prevent mutants being systematically contained and abused by society, that makes a lot of sense. It's possible Charles' approach is more likely to work, but it's possible Magneto's is (or more likely, both approaches together are more effective than either alone).

However, as I watched more movies that characterisation seems lost. It seems like in every single movie, Magneto's noble goals lead through a train of tortured reasoning, to "and then mass murder", or "and then genocide". And then the X-men get to be the 'good guys' without having to ask whether a more targeted campaign of violence they'd be wrong to oppose. I'm inclined to put that down to the characterisation suffering for the needs of the plot, because I like the character and don't want to condemn them. Or that it's pushing the message that "any violence leads to too much violence" which I *generally* agree with, but probably not for a minority fighting against their extermination. Or that Magneto has a character flaw where his justified hatred of non-mutants, leads to all his plans ending "and then a massive indiscriminate slaughter of non-mutants" which doesn't seem to actually help.
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