In film, there isn’t anything better than watching the hero overcome insurmountable odds and save the day. Except, maybe, when we get to see the villains at their finest. I would argue that even though we as an audience, and maybe even a species, enjoy watching the hero win, the more important aspect of a hero’s journey is seeing just how terrible the villain can be. The villain in a film may ultimately only be ancillary to the plot by giving the hero something to overcome but the really memorable ones do so much more. They show us a bit of ourselves.
In this super-cut of cinematic villainy by CLS Videos we’re treated to dozens of criminal masterminds, two-bit thugs, and demonstrable evil from thrillers, comedies, and even a few from children’s movies. They even compiled the list of every film used. While there are undoubtedly some complete monsters in this amazing super-cut that I sincerely hope no one out there can relate to, I believe the best villains are always slightly just like us.
What makes a good villain? A lair full of henchmen? A plan to take over the world? A super weapon capable of destroying said world? Sure, absolutely all three of those. But what makes a great villain is the ability to stare the audience in the face and reflect ours own desires right back at us. I’m not saying we’re evil people but we sure all have our moments and when a film can become the mirror of our own wrong doings then it makes for the most interesting baddies.
One thing to notice in this video is the amount of times we’re served a shot of the villain looking either directly into the lens. Norman Bates, Jack Torrence, Hannibal Lecter, Loki, Emperor Palpatine, Magneto, and even Lotso all have moments looking directly into the eyes of the audience as if to say with one look that they aren’t ashamed of what they’ve done or are about to do and they definitely want us to know it. This look through the lens often comes immediately after the characters are looking down as if pondering their actions. As an audience we respond to these looks with slight envy. Despite whatever monstrous deeds they’ve done, the confidence a villain displays is enticing and exciting.
Another thing to notice is joy. Villains, especially the exaggerated ones with menacing and cartoonish grins like The Joker, White Goodman, Mr. Blonde, Begbie, and Scar find immense pleasure in the dark deeds they do. They are, for the most part, pure Id. Pure desire and impulse. They seem completely aware of their actions and see no fault in them because they use themselves as the baseline for behavior. They are the normal ones in their own eyes and are simply enjoying what they find enjoyable. Strip away the evil and there still is something appealing about this attribute as we – in some form – wish we could just act on our basest impulses from time to time.
The evil in films is often magnified and serves as a mirror to our own capabilities as human beings good and bad. Even depictions of WWII and the Nazis serve as a reminder to the very real evil we as a species are capable of. Seeing a monster on the big screen allows us to reflect on history, our own actions and the future. Seeing evil committed in movies reminds us what it is to be good. If we as the audience are capable of seeing a bit of ourselves in the baddest and most believable villains, then it’s all the more rewarding see them defeated. In the end, seeing the hero save the day is as important as knowing that evil can be thwarted.
And maybe I’m completely wrong, let me know what you think of villainy in the comments below!