Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sympathizing With Villains

Recently my husband and I watched “Warrior”, a movie we had been meaning to see since it came out in theaters. When my husband was younger he was a full contact fighter and then after a couple of years in college he joined the Marines. So when we saw the preview for this movie and saw the rows and rows of Marines in their full dress singing their support for one of their own entering the ring, there was no question about us seeing this movie.
But that’s not why I’m writing about this.

I’m writing about it because of the two main characters’ father, Paddy, played by Nick Nolte.

When the movie starts we see Paddy driving alone, living alone, watching old fights of his sons alone. When his son comes back into town, looking for a coach to get back into fighting he finds his father. Paddy is so happy to see his son but his son is angry and bitter towards him, making you feel like he’s just using his father. Then Paddy goes to see his other son to tell him his brother is back from the war but this son isn’t any happier to see his father. Paddy sees his grandchildren, who have no idea who he is and the desperation in Paddy’s face, his voice, his outstretched hand just breaks your heart.

Paddy’s sons hate him because Paddy was an abusive alcoholic that ripped their family apart when they were kids.

Up until this revelation you are sitting there, watching Paddy suffer and you suffer with him. You are filled with compassion for this character, knowing all the while something happened to make his kids hate him but not really caring what it was that he did.

That is what struck me; feeling compassion and suffering with, basically, a villain. It was just amazing. I can’t remember a time where a character I was supposed to hate made me feel for them. I wanted his kids to forget what he had been like when they were younger, let him hug his grandkids, let him talk to his kids like regular people. I know if I had been introduced to this character during his drunken, abusive days, I wouldn’t have felt this way about him; I would’ve cheered his sons’ decision to live happy, healthy lives without him.

This was not message of the movie, whatsoever, but that’s what I was left with. How introducing a character on stage changes your perception and reaction to them. And I think I better understand the varying reactions I get to my own characters from different people. Some love Jodi, some hate her. Jensen drives me nuts; most of my readers love him unconditionally.

I think, thanks to this movie, I am going to take a much harder look at how I introduce characters on stage, especially the villains.


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