Do We Love The Villains More Than The Heroes?
Beware The Power Of Darkness
Last week I was watching the Netflix movie “Highwaymen”, a movie depicting the law’s pursuit of Bonnie & Clyde — the most romanticized criminal couple of American history. While watching I realized I wasn’t enjoying the movie much although I was fascinated with the story of Bonnie & Clyde. At first, I thought maybe it was because the movie wasn’t well made. But I could not clarify to myself why it felt not up to the mark, usually, I am good at describing what I liked or didn’t like about any movie or series or books. So, it got me thinking.
Eventually, it occurred to me that maybe we like the glamorized version of a story from the antagonist’s viewpoint more rather than the idealized viewpoint of the protagonist. If I had watched the movie from Bonnie and Clyde’s perspective, I would have seen an out of the box rebel criminal couple who have terrorized America in the 1930s with their crooked activities. Still, common people adored them until they started killing police officers, idealized them as style icons, movies have been made based on their story. Their tale even became more famous after their death due to the colorful glamorization of media. Instead, in this movie, I had to watch a comparatively less thrilling story where the representatives of law roam from states to states in pursuit of the couple and keep explaining the boring ethical mottos of justice.
Later I came to think it is not that odd; it’s quite natural for the human instinct to be infatuated with the antagonistic perspective of a story. Probably because antagonistic characters are usually written in a more interesting and fascinating way. It is much more exciting to look into a villain to try to figure out why they act that way, or how they are built inside to be making them act outside of the law. And the extensive charm of Bonnie & Clyde’s story is that they are not just characters coming into life from comic pages or someone’s imagination — they were real human beings breathing, eating, walking on the same earth that we are part of. Granted their stories have been magnified, been made flashier by media; still, by no means they were conventional. I have heard tales of Bonnie & Clyde sitting in a corner of south-east Asia; in contrast how many among us recognize the name Frank Hamer, the man behind the capture and termination of these glorified criminals?
Another probable reason for common people’s attraction to the antagonists might be human’s inherited secret desire to break the law. How many times even as children we have devised a plan to do something which we have been forbidden to do! Antagonists are often developed with multi-layered inner struggles which people can relate to more closely; perhaps antagonists or “villains” are entitled to express freely which we only desire to express ourselves but held back by social expectations.
As Sigmund Freud had mentioned human nature as inherently antisocial, biologically driven by the undisciplined id’s pleasure principle to get what we want when we want it — born to be bad but held back by society. Even if the psyche fully develops its ego (source of self-control) and superego (conscience), Freudians say the id still dwells underneath, and it wishes for many selfish things — so it would love to be supervillainous.
Why Do Supervillains Fascinate Us? A Psychological Perspective
Why are we fascinated by supervillains? Posing the question is much like asking why evil itself intrigues us, but…
I am not saying most people support crimes; the attraction towards villains might be due to the audacity, bravery to go against the norm, the sheer thrill to escape the law. While most of us are not brave enough to do what we desire, the fictions become the way of living that desire. That’s why violent video games, action movies, war epics are so wildly popular around the globe. Nothing beats the thrill of feeling the sword on your neck. That’s why we pay to jump from a hilltop, to feel like flying free as an eagle. The thrill is an important key factor when it comes to entertainment.
A great hero needs a great villain — that is beyond the need for explanation. There is no Harry Potter without Voldemort, no X-Men without Magneto, no Lord of the Rings without Gollum, no Thor without Loki, no Star Wars without Darth Vader. Sometimes the success of the movie depends on the success of the villain, not the hero. Personally, my most favorite Batman movie is “The Dark Knight” directed by Christopher Nolan where Health Ledger plays Joker. The reason behind my favoritism is solely the villain, Heath Ledger gave an incomparable, unbeatable, unforgettable performance. I just can’t get over that particular Joker, even Batman failed to shine in that movie although Christian Bale did a splendid job playing Batman. And who can forget Hannibal Lecter played by Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of The Lambs”, Hans Landa played by Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”, Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins in the trendsetting classic “Psycho”. Our beloved Leonardo DiCaprio stole our hearts as the sweet, charming Jack Dawson in Titanic, but his portrayal as the corrupted stockbroker Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of The Wall Street” took him on another level of brilliance. Even chick flicks are swept onto a different level with the touch of a good old villain — we just love to hate Regina from “Mean Girls”, Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada”.
One of the most celebrated film directors Alfred Hitchcock had spilled this formula a long time ago by saying-
“The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”