Don’t Psychoanalyze the Villain Please

Or, to paraphrase Woody Allen playing Alvy Singer: I resent movie-makers’ attempts to reduce evil down to simple psychoanalytic categories.

Which is why my top three movies of the last two years all feature major characters that emerge, fully-formed with no backstory, as evil motherfuckers that wreak havoc on the moral fabric of their surroundings.

I’m talking about Anton Chirgur in “No Country for Old Men”, Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”, and of course, The Joker from “The Dark Knight”.

All three characters emerge fully-formed, out of some circle of hell which Dante hasn’t visited, and their awesomeness makes them much more interesting characters. All three are driven purely to do acts of evil, without explanation, and they won’t stop until they have done those evil acts, and one gets the feeling that they will never stop, because that is their nature.

There is often a tendency in the mainstream culture to rationalize evil using folk psychology: it’s either the traumatized childhood, or that mommy didn’t hug the villain enough when he was young. For the life of me, I cannot understand why film-makers feel the need to explain away evil. After all, the evil is the point of the character: just take the evil for granted, and then create a realistic portrayal that is consistent with the internal logic of the movie.

Of course you have to have great actors to inhabit these fully-realized characters, and in all three cases (Javier Bardem, Daniel Day Lewis, and Heath Ledger) absolutely embraced their characters.

Hopefully this trend will continue, and there is reason to hope, seeing how No Country and Blood both received nominations, and one of them won, and The Dark Knight made tons of money.


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