In a break from our usual funky reviews, I want to post a blog about a subject that I have discussed recently with a group of students while I was taking a teaching course – the cult of the hero and heroine (not “heron and heroin”, those are very different things, as I sagely advised the students!). This issue sprang from a lesson that examined another blog post about the sci-fi film Avatar and the works of director James Cameron in general. I can’t give my full views on Avatar or James Cameron here, but in brief, I’m a huge fan of his brooding sci-fi scorchers Terminator, Terminator II and Aliens, but I don’t have any urge to see Titanic in the slightest, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d like Avatar or not due to all of the hype that surrounded it. I didn’t see Avatar until a couple of years ago, even though it was out in 2009, but I was pleasantly surprised when I did manage to catch it at how exhilarating it was. It contained brazen thrills and a barely-suppressed sense of unadulterated joy in being a shamelessly unapologetic mainstream blockbuster, which was great. However, the film was very clean cut, with its ‘Good Guys’ and ‘Bad Guys’ clearly delineated. I’m not quite sure that the world, or whichever planet you’re on, works this way. This is, of course, part of the fun of watching films – they don’t have to represent reality exactly as it is, but it might be more enjoyable to see some films with characters that have a bit more texture to them. That said, here are some of my favourite heroes and heroines from films, who don’t always find themselves in completely realistic everyday situations:
Heroes and heroines can be great at taking us away from our mundane lives (sorry if that’s a bit presumptive and you don’t have a mundane life, but if that’s the case you’re lucky and don’t really deserve my abject pity anyway!), and are a great escape into imaginative worlds of excitement, danger and fantasy (if you’re into those kind of things).
It is interesting to find that Ellen Ripley was originally supposed to be a male character in an early draft of the Alien script. The decision to cast her as a woman gave the film and subsequent series an entirely fresh perspective on action horror films, putting a woman in charge of the situation and showing how she could handle things pretty satisfactorily by herself, thank you.
Villains, of course, can be even more enjoyable to watch, particularly if they’re exceptionally fiendish and foul. Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun springs to mind, played by the exceptionally cool and menacing Christopher Lee, always an imposing figure in any film that he is featured, opposite the calm and collected hero of James Bond himself, immaculately played by the swaggering Sean Connery. There’s also the iconic Darth Vader from the Star Wars series, acted by Dave Prowse and voiced by the booming James Earl Jones, who doesn’t mess around with the Dark Side of the force, and doesn’t suffer fools or rebels kindly, as we well know if we’ve seen any of the films (check out our Star Wars review if you haven’t! seamlessly neat link, huh?!). Other classic villains that I adore are The Joker in the Batman series, played brilliantly manically on film by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, Hans Gruber, the vicious terrorist boss in the Die Hard series given a gritty, pithy portrayal by the excellent Alan Rickman. Then there’s the oppressive villainess Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a steely Louise Fletcher, Ralph Fiennes’ ruthless Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter Series, Al Paccino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, as well as a raft of creepy, kooky others. Who are your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!
There are even films that question the role of the superhero or superheroine, such as the quirky Mystery Men (1999), the awesome Kick-Ass (2010) and the excellent, vastly under-rated Super (2010). Watchmen (2009) also probes the morality of whether having people wearing masks and tight costumes means that they should be allowed to administer justice merely using their own arbitrary value systems. What makes a hero? Is it really something that we should all aspire to be? Or do they have some serious flaws and personality problems? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below!
Some of my favourite characters in films are not heroes or heroines, but quite the opposite, those that are known as anti-heroes. One magnificent example of these is Travis Bickle, played by the consummate professional Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver (you can also see our review of this film here). Anti-heroes are not always likeable, and don’t always take actions that are moral or that we are comfortable with them taking, but we still follow their progress and question whether we agree with their morality or not. Other anti-heroes are Alex De Large from the Kubrick masterpiece A Clockwork Orange, given hideous life by Malcolm Macdowell, Raoul Duke, played exceptionally accurately by Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam’s free-wheeling Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (review to follow!), Philip Marlow in The Big Sleep, immortalised by Humphrey Bogart, as well as the anti-heroine Beatrix Kiddo in the Kill Bill films, played by the glassy Uma Thurman.
Even real people can be cast as heroes, villains or anti-heroes, or their female equivalents. Gandhi was depicted in the moving eponymous film by Sir David Attenborough and performed by the eminently versatile Ben Kingsley. The life of Oskar Schindler was also brought to the screen in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning Schindler’s List. There is debate whether Oskar is a complete hero, or in parts an anti-hero. What do you think?
That’s been my rambling thoughts about heroes, heroines and the rest, anyway. I’d very much like to hear yours too! Do we need heroes, running into the night?