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Villain, Hero or Somewhere In Between…

By Darcy Crowder

I love discussing villains, or more specifically, that murky grey area of is he or isn’t he. Not the obvious traditional evil-doer the hero triumphs over, but the more questionable misunderstood character we want to root for. Because, after all, the mark of well-written character is one who is a delicious blend of good and bad. How we view him in the end depends on the recipe…

Consider, for example, one of my all time favorite movies – Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. Certainly the original version of the story made it clear that the phantom was the villain. And I suppose, in the true sense of the word, he still is in this musical version. But what woman didn’t view this movie and secretly wish the phantom could be redeemed?

Such passion. Such virile manliness. Sigh. Yes, his love didn’t just flirt with obsession, it embraced it wholeheartedly! But still…

We’re given a deeper insight to his life, his lack of acceptance, family, and love. Gerard Butler portrayed the phantom’s anguish and desire with such depth of feeling that we wanted to forgive him anything.

Wanted him to be the hero.

Then there’s the case of the hero who starts out a little villainous and through the course of the story we get to watch him grow into his role. A favorite example of this is the movie A Good Year, with Russell Crowe.

Max Skinner (Crowe) is a ruthless stock-trader completely absorbed with acquiring wealth and sticking it to the “other guy”. Life takes a turn when he inherits his uncle’s failing French vineyard, causing him to return to this beloved place of his childhood where he rediscovers himself and ultimately finds love. It’s a visually beautiful movie, but also a wonderful character study excellently portrayed by Crowe.

I highly recommend both of these movies. Stunning vistas (real and imaginary), hunky villain/heroes, beautiful heroines and romance. What’s not to love?

Tami Brothers - March 2, 2009 - 4:18 am

Ohh, man. I haven’t seen either one of these movies, but you make me want to go out and find them. I’ll have to do that.

I had NO idea Gerard Butler played the phantom!!! I will definitely find that one!!!

Great post, Darcy.

Tami

Debbie Kaufman - March 2, 2009 - 4:58 am

Darcy:
The description of Russell Crowe’s transformation reminds me of Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry. He’s such a jerk with little we can find redeeming until he’s shot in the head. Finding his way back and dealing with who he had been is such a touching transformation. I’ve never seen A Good Year, so I’ll have to check it out!

Sandy Elzie - March 2, 2009 - 5:16 am

Darcy,
Well done! I’ve seen both movies and you’re right on the money. (anyone who hasn’t seen them needs to. Let me know if you can’t find them and I’m willing to loan)

I like the comment about how we sometimes want the villian to be the hero…we want him to redeem himself. I felt that way through Silence Of the Lamb…which I only watched once…hoping he wouldn’t be the so horrible. Oh well…

You have true talent in writing, young lady, and I hope we will soon be celebrating your success.

Sandy

Sally Kilpatrick - March 2, 2009 - 5:53 am

Great post, Darcy. I can think of a couple of other guys who live in the gray area although they aren’t quite villains. I’ve always carried a torch for Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone. His character is more good than bad, but it’s all relative. I think the same can be said of Jack Sparrow. He’s a complete scoundrel, but he steals the show from the more staid Will Turner–even if he does obviously need a shower among other things.

Sally

Cinthia Hamer - March 2, 2009 - 6:22 am

OMG, Darcy, Phantom is one of my all time favorite movies. I watch it with a box of tissues…some to wipe the tears and some to wipe the drool! LOL!

At the end, where Eric (the phantom’s real name) is sitting amongst the ruins of his possessions, my heart breaks for him.

But if you stop and really think about this character, you realize that his traumatic childhood caused him to be seriously unbalanced. He loved Christine, yes, but his love was a sick, obsessive kind of love.

Oddly enough, Max Skinner is a lot like Eric…he was foisted off on his Uncle Henry because his parents were busy traveling and didn’t want him tagging along. So, in Max’s mind, acquiring possessions and being ruthless was his way of saying to them, “See? I didn’t need you. I did this all on my own.”

Thankfully, Max’s story has a much happier ending than the phantom’s. :-)

Nicki Salcedo - March 2, 2009 - 6:57 am

My favorite villain on tv was Al Swearengen from Deadwood (on HBO). Probably the most brutally despicable character I’ve ever seen, but I always found myself rooting for him.

Darcy, this is spot on perfect. Villains have so much room for character growth, angst, redemption. Why go as Luke Skywalker on Halloween when you can go as Darth Vader?

Susan May - March 2, 2009 - 7:16 am

Darcy,
Nice post. I remember seeing Russell Crowe’s movie and what an impression it made on me. It is one of those that you go away believing someone does get what life is about.

Maxine Davis - March 2, 2009 - 8:09 am

Darcy,
Really good post. I seem to always root for the underdog which is often the ‘almost’ villain.

You sure do have a (great) way with words!
Maxine

Darcy Crowder - March 2, 2009 - 9:09 am

Tami — You’ll LOVE Phantom, it’s a keeper! And G.B. does his own singing. Sigh.

Debbie – I enjoyed Regarding Henry too. It’s much more dramatic, but another wonderful growth movie.

Sandy – From your lips to God’s ears…thanks for the compliment. :) But Silence of the Lambs? That movie HAUNTED me. LOL.

Sally – My family loves V.K. as Doc Holliday! Great movie. And of course, Depp’s magnetism is a thing of legend…

Cinthia – I can’t get through Phantom without crying either…and the drool, well that’s just a given. I’ll watch G.B. in ANYTHING. LOL.

Nicki – I love character study – it’s one of my favorite elements in writing.

Thanks, Maxine! Right back atcha! How are submissions going?

Dianna Love - March 2, 2009 - 9:21 am

Good movie choices and I haven’t seen the one about the stocktrader. Putting that on my list.

I’m working on a hero right now who has been such a jerk in past books I’m having fun turning him into a civilized hero. But villains are the best, the more human and possibly redeemable the better. I’m making notes on all the suggestions.

One of the all time best evil villains was in Silence of the Lambs. I think that character stayed with people for a long time.

Very interesting post.

Cyrano - March 2, 2009 - 10:32 am

I myself have seen both movies. I really liked, A Good Year. That movie is a great example of a ruthless man seeing the error of his ways and changing because of them.
Now don’t go grabbing rotten fruit to hurl at me ladies, but I didn’t care for Phantom, any of the versions. I saw the second one by myself one weekday and would have fallen asleep if it wasn’t for Gerard Butler. LOVE THAT MAN. The sexy Scot was also in a movie called Dear Frankie. Totally different movie and he didn’t even play a villain in it, but I loved his character so much I just had to throw it out there in case you hadn’t seen it.
I think a good villain who redeems himself in the end is Valmont from Dangerous Liasons. And you know, John Malcovich, not a sexy guy, especially now a days, but in that particular movie, pretty darn sexy!
Loved the post, Darcy!
Stay warm everyone!
Tamara

Cyrano - March 2, 2009 - 10:34 am

Oh, forgot to say this, Sally, Doc Hollywood is one of my favorites. Even looking like death warmed over, Val Kilmer was hot.
“I’m yur huckleberry!”
Tamara

Darcy Crowder - March 2, 2009 - 3:44 pm

Hi Dianna! Thanks for stopping by. I’m really looking forward to your next book. Speaking of Phantoms…I loved Phantom in the Night. :)

Hey Tamara – You’re forgiven. :) Anyone who adores G.B. can’t be all bad. VBG.

Linsey Lanier - March 2, 2009 - 4:18 pm

Phantom is a little too gothic for my tastes, but I do remember watching the movie and wishing the Phantom could be redeemed. And that the ending was happier.

You’re right, the Phantom has that mix of good and evil that makes for a memorable character, whether you hate him or just feel sorry for him.

I haven’t seen A Good Year, but I’ll have to check it out. I did love Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Great movie. I suppose you could say Crowe played the hero in that story, but he had about as many issues as the Phantom.

Can’t wait till our next trip to the video store. Media Mondays are giving me lots of ideas!

Great post, Darcy.

Linsey

EC Spurlock - March 2, 2009 - 6:39 pm

A great post, Darcy, and right up my alley! But I have to say that the movie version of Phantom was a bomb for me, largely because after having seen Michael Crawford in the original Broadway version (SEVERAL times; my husband was even more addicted to it than I was!) nobody else even comes close. Crawford infused the character with so much pain and humanity you ached for him all the way through. He said more with his hands than the lyrics could possibly express. Also, go back and read Leroux’ original book; you get so much more insight of all the characters, and the Phantom is redeemed, in a way. It’s a great read!

Right on about Valmont, Tracy; he really tugged at the heart at the end, scoundrel though he was! Ditto Doc Holliday; I’ve never seen a movie Val Kilmer didn’t run away with. Another of my favorite villainous actors is Jason Isaacs; his villains are simultaneously despicable and luscious. When they put him and Mel Gibson together in The Patriot, it all but melted my DVD player!

Carol Burnside - March 2, 2009 - 10:07 pm

Enjoyed the post, Darcy. I enjoyed Phantom, though it’s not my favorite kind of movie. For me, the best part was Butler’s.

I haven’t seen A Good Year. Will have to rent it because I love to see the baddie redeemed. It’s especially interesting to me if he’s been terribly hurt in the past and love brings him around to good. He can still be rough around the edges, but I still want to see him irrestibly drawn to love. :)

Mary Marvella - March 3, 2009 - 7:24 pm

Interesting comments. Phantom isn’t my type of movie. I do have problems with movies that depress me, heroes or villains who are too damaged.

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