Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hero Personality Profiles, Conclusion: Match The Hero to the Vacuum

So what can we conclude from this breakdown? Is it useful to know the personality types of your heroes before you write them? I think a list like this is useful for a few reasons:
  1. As we saw, several heroes were members of several groups, but nobody was a member of all of them. Simply because these are all admirable types doesn’t mean that a hero can be a shapeless agglomeration of traits. Likeable heroes come in many different shapes. You have to give heroes a certain set of heroic traits and stick to those, even if it means that they’re distinctly lacking in others. That way, when a producer says, “A hero wouldn’t do that”, you can respond, “This type of hero would”.
  2. Even though I initially found it cynical and depressing, I now see why it’s important to surround heroes with characters that lack their qualities. The point, I think, is that nobody gets any credit for doing what everybody else is doing. This ties into another recent idea: movies aren’t about morals, they’re about ethics, and ethics are entirely relative. In the same way that actions are only heroic if they’re hard to do, personality traits are only admirable if it you have to go against the grain when you act that way.
  3. Another reason why context is important: A hero who is likeable in one situation might be entirely unlikable if you put them in a different movie. Each situation has something lacking: a vacuum that needs to be filled, and just begging for a certain personality type to come in and fill it. Sometimes the situation calls out for a hero who will speak truth to power, but other times they just need someone to come in and start a keg party. Find the right vacuum for every hero, and the right hero for every vacuum.
  4. Indeed, even in real life, every hero is determined solely by his context: Compared to most people, Churchill was a white supremacist genocidal maniac, but compared to Hitler, he wasn’t so bad, and in fact he turned out to be just the right hero at just the right time. (Of course, as soon as the war ended, he had to be whisked back out to the curb post haste)


Albert said...

So, where does someone like Dexter fit in? I mean yes he's kind of better than those he kills... (in a paradoxical way), but he's certainly not better than the cops who surround him.

The lone crusader amongst the great unwashed?

What about Mel Gibson in Payback? He's better than the others around him, but he's not a nice man. There is a certain righteousness about him, he's getting his just rewards. Would he fit in The unrewarded but talented worker surrounded by users, sub-category?

Great blog!

Matt Bird said...

I've never watched Dexter, so I invite others to chime in on that one (I would bet, from my experience with other shows, that his fellow cops were less likable in the pilot, just long enough to get us on Dexter's side).

I haven't seen Payback either, but I love the movie it remade, Point Blank with Lee Marvin. A big reason that we love the Parker character in Point Blank is that he only wants the precise amount of money that he's owed, making him the ethical one (though totally immoral), surrounded by cheaters.

Albert said...

I'll have to check out Point Blank. Thanks.

As for Dexter, I just recently watched the pilot and the other cops are portrayed, with the exception of one foul-mouthed sergeant, as likeable characters. One of the others is his sister, whom we feel somewhat sympathetic for because she is oblivious to what he does (ie kills killers).

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Point Blank is a great, great, great movie. (ASIDE: Though it does have a "twist ending" that's looks to be there if you pay attention that's annoying as crap. Was it all a deathbed dream of Lee Marvin's character, who actually dies in the very beginning of the film? The film could be interpreted that way easily and maybe that was Boorman's intention. But...what the hell does that have to do with anything we saw? It doesn't fit in with any theme; it's a "shock ending" that doesn't have anything to do with what came before. For that reason, I choose to believe that the "it was all a dying man's dream" interpretation is malarkey invented after the fact by fans and critics. The movie's too well made for such un-thematic nonsense.)

As far as Dexter, he fits in by catching the serial killers that the police can't. The cops may be "good guys," but what's needed to save the people from monsters is a bad guy. The vacuum he fills is the void created between the needs and the abilities of normal folks. What they can do is be good people; what they need is to hunt and kill those who would make them prey.

He's a variation on the "hard man" archetype, the lone cowboy who's the only one with "the gumption to do what's gotta be done." Mel Gibson in "Payback" would fall into this as well. (As Matt pointed out, Lee Marvin in "Point Blank" is the Lone Honest Man in a World of Liars. His morals may be twisted, but his ethics are unimpeachable.)

Matt Bird said...

So it sounds like Dexter would fit into "The smarter one who can see the nature of the situation", which makes sense since that's where other TV anti-heroes fit.

(And I've never heard that interpretation of the end of Point Blank before, but I don't like it either.)

rams said...

Hey, Sir Thomas More anticipated #2: "It is now no achievement for you children to go to heaven, for everybody gives you good counsel, everybody gives you good example -- you see virtue rewarded and vice punished so that you are carried up to heaven even by your chins. But if you live the time that no man will give you good counsel, no man will give you good example, when you see virtue punished and vice rewarded,if you will then stand fast and firmly stick to God, upon pain of my life, though you be but half good, God will allow you for whole good."

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The DVD commentary for Point Blank mentions that interpretation. And, sad to say, there are elements in the film to back it up. But it's so damn lame.

Ah...here we go. From Wikipedia:

"Viewers and critics have often questioned whether or not the film is really a dream that Walker has after he is shot in the very beginning. Director Boorman claims to not have an opinion on the matter. 'What it is is what you see,' responded Boorman...Boorman believes the film is about Lee Marvin's experiences in World War II, how it dehumanized him and left him desperately searching for his humanity."

See, now that's a damn good interpretation and a fine theme.

Dan Gerous said...

Where would you categorize someone who is a social pariah and a bit of a misanthrope but sees the insanity in being, as Krishnamurti put it, "well-adjusted to a deeply sick society"? Think of someone like the Joker from The Dark Knight, except not homicidal or psychopathic. The smart one who sees the nature of the situation?

Dan Gerous said...

Where would you categorize someone who is a social pariah and a bit of a misanthrope but sees the insanity in being, as Krishnamurti put it, "well-adjusted to a deeply sick society"? Think of someone like the Joker from The Dark Knight, except not homicidal or psychopathic. The smart one who sees the nature of the situation?