Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Favorite Movie Villains

There are many villains in film and literature. Unfortunately, most of them are one-dimensional, existing only to act as an adversary and to be a foil for the protagonists, or as a tool to move the plot. There are tons of such characters in our favorite movies.

But I don't care for these flat, uninteresting characters. There's nothing about them that inspires me. I want some depth to the people who move through the movies I watch; even the villains need to be human.

For this reason, my two favorite movie villains both appeared in great movies in the same year, 2007.

And I'll list them now in the order that they impress me.

First is Daniel Plainview from the absolutely brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Plainview is just an amazing character all around. Tough, self-sufficient, driven, manipulative, intelligent, physically imposing, and utterly evil. This is a villain a person can admire. He does not whine and he does not deviate from his mission.

Plainview, as portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis, is just one of the best character studies I have ever seen on the screen. We see his strengths and his weaknesses. Why Lewis chose to do what appears to be an imitation of the voice of John Huston (or Clint Eastwood's version of John Huston), I can't say. But it works. It was perfect.

The best villains are the ones who are human.

When the film is mentioned it usually is in the context of recounting the "I drink your milkshake" scene. But that is, to my way of thinking, one of the greatest scenes of both revenge and self-destruction I've ever witnessed in a movie.

And so, number one on my short list of movie villains is Daniel Plainview from THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

My second favorite movie villain is Anton Chigurh from the Coen Brothers' 2007 film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Now...Anton is not wholly human. Since the book and the movie are basically a retelling of the Jesus story, and Chigurh stands in as Satan, you can't very well list him as a man. I prefer to think of him as Satan in human garb, and this works for me.

As with Plainview, Chigurh is a driven, single-minded, implacable character who might be nudged slightly out of the way, but who is ultimately unstoppable and who will not be denied. In addition, his resourcefulness as implied on the screen is simple and beautiful and leaves the viewer with both a sense of dread and one of admiration. Force combined with ingenuity are his major tools, and all he really needs.

A smile from something that is not human.

The supernatural aspect of Chigurh could be a drawback to enjoying the way his actions unfold on the screen, but what keeps this from growing tired is that he is everywhere at once. Where one feels that he is often returning to the scene of a crime, the fact of the matter is that he never leaves, being with each of us all of the time. It's almost like a twisted version of the Tom Joad "I'll be there" speech from THE GRAPES OF WRATH. The only person he is never with in every moment is the Jesus-figure, Llewellyn Moss. And he still dogs him to a pair of deaths and takes his prize in the end.

As with Lewis' performance, I love the way Javier Bardem chooses to portray Satan/Chigurh. His flat, implacable way of speaking and moving is hypnotic and disarming. He knows where he needs to be and what he wants to do, but is almost always genuinely confused by people and the way that they think and emote. He is a frightening individual and I can see how someone could be scared of such a version of Satan.

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