January 24, 2021

The cinema no longer distinguishes between heroes and villains

The cinema no longer distinguishes between heroes and villains


When the life experience falls short, only fiction has the power to model not only our imaginary; also our own personality, endowing it with an ethical code by making us take sides in the anthropological struggle between good and evil. Literature, cinema and theater have been putting us to the test in that aspect since they took their first steps. In his essay "Heroes and Villains in the cinema. From Shakespeare to Indiana Jones »(Ed. Sial Pygmalion), David Felipe Arranz, professor of journalism and researcher at the Carlos III University of Madrid, embarks us on a journey through that emotional state that few arts like the one in the frame have been able to manipulate. The work brings together about thirty analyzes of filmmakers and films of literary or philosophical background, with a gallery of characters that go between "romantic idealism and criminal perversion: assassins, seducers, adventurers, ladies in danger …". Heroes or villains? The viewer chooses. And it is that the line that separates both is increasingly diffuse.

«The heroes and the villains of classic cinema have been walking until they meet», explains Arranz to LA RAZÓN. A good example would be Dracula. On the one hand, the Tod Browning version of 1931 shows an "evil, sadistic, bloodsucking" protagonist in charge of "a gloomy Bela Lugosi"; On the other hand, the 1992 version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, reveals the same character but "romantic, attractive and tormented, victim of a contradictory and impossible love with Mina Harker". And instead, his antagonist, Abraham van Helsing, "wants to destroy the creature at all costs and is ruthless and even diabolical on many occasions," says Arranz, Director of the award-winning cultural magazine «El Marcapáginas»

It is not the only example. In the same line is the celebrated Batman of «The Dark Knight» (2008), by Christopher Nolan, with "the introduction of Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent, transformed into Two Faces, which gives life to a superb Aaron Eckhart, and the greater ethical complexity of the Batman character, already full of shadows ». The batman has always played in this regard, as happened in the version that Tim Burton directed in 1988. "The Joker that composes the sensational Jack Nicholson becomes the" hero "of the show, a petty thief who after Submerging yourself by accident in an acid tank turns out to be a fun, creative and surreal type. It could be the very same Salvador Dalí who spoke by his mouth ».

But to find the origin of this "blurring of ethical boundaries" we must go further back. This is the case of Captain Nemo, «Hero and villain, filmed by Richard Fleischer in" Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea "(1954) and created by James Mason in a true state of grace. Cruel, genocidal and at the same time protector of the human race, Nemo de Verne and Fleischer is a prodigious man full of contradictions that has built a fabulous underwater device to watch over the world order destroying any battleship that is found and annihilating all his crew ». Or in that "space version" made by Disney, "The Black Abyss" (1979), with Maximilian Schell giving life to a scientist obsessed with the ultimate knowledge of the universe, which he believes exists on the other side of a black hole.

Seduce more the hero or the villain? For Arranz, «The mystery that moves the evil one is his capacity to transgress the moral norms for the attainment of almost always individualistic aims. From the lunatic to the serial killer, all the villains despise the value of human life of their peers, who are nothing but the pieces of a game that they want to win ». There is the Shakespearean Richard III, played by Basil Rathbone in "The Tower of London (1939)," one of the most perfect villains in the history of cinema built from the mortar of William Shakespeare and the Duke's own story of Gloucester by Rowland V. and Robert Lee. It is the story of any current political party: a being provided with a voracious ambition that is "eating" the pieces of his adversaries on the board of life ».

Do not forget the "seduction of evil", much faster than the good and with more immediate results: "When the villain acquires great power, easily seduces his acolytes and followers, who want to follow him and put on their attributes and learn from him ». In fact, "in the current cinema many times the bad ones win, as in" Who can kill a child "(1976)," Seven "(1995)," Memento "(2000)," La Niebla "(2007) or even "Someone flew over the cuckoo's nest (1975)" ». The latter, in the person of the evil nurse Ratched, denotes that "psychopaths often choose in real life professions of service and protection to others so as not to be discovered. This in Robin Hood or The Captain Blood by Michael Curtiz was inconceivable ».

What three heroes and their corresponding villains could be considered key in the evolution of the history of cinema? Arranz proposes three films. In the first «The man with the golden pistols», (1959), Edward Dmytryk's western, "the boundaries between the gunman (Henry Fonda) and the sheriff (Richard Widmark) are blurred, catalyzed by the character of Anthony Quinn. The duel is superb. It influenced a lot in the conception of the characters in the westerns of Sergio Leone and, therefore, of Tarantino ».

In the second, "The fall of the Roman Empire" (1964), Anthony Mann's peplum, "we find a hero, General Livio (Stephen Boyd), whom Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) chooses as his successor with the consequent anger of his natural heir, his son Commodus, incarnated by a splendid Christopher Plummer, who devotes himself to "avenging" his rival throughout history ». A story that Ridley Scott used in Gladiator (2000), which "is nothing but a remake of Mann's film".

Finally, Arranz quotes «The return of the Jedi» (1983). And it is that the tandem hero / villain formed by Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader has been "one of the most transcendent has had in the current cinematography." Thus, the characters of George Lucas "go through different phases of goodness and evil until they converge in an impressive final duel, in the presence of Emperor Palpatin and where duelists also measure their arguments and their ethical points of view." More recently, in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017), Rian Johnson recovered "the characters of Lucas and a Skywalker darker and even amoral than his father".

The germ of Indiana Jones

The examples given are only some within an innumerable list of seminal works that later made possible even more famous characters. This is the case of one of the heroes by antonomasia, Indiana Jones. Arranz tells that the actors Alan Ladd and Charlton Heston inspired Steven Spielberg in the creation in 1981 of his famous archaeologist. Specifically, in two films: "China" (1943), by John Farrow, and "The Secret of the Incas" (1954), by Jerry Hopper.

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