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Det Jim McLeod

Sympathetic Characters And Someone To Root For

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I often see this in reviews of films- "I hated this film because the lead character was not  sympathetic  and there was no one to root for."

Do you all feel that you need this in a film in order to like it? One of my favorite movies is "Taxi Driver", I was fascinated by the anti social loner with crazy ideas in this head, but would not like to hang out with a real life Travis Bickle, I would try my best to avoid him. Many  great films have unlikable lead characters, Kirk Douglas in "Champion', Paul Newman in "Hud", Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire". 

Any thoughts on this?

 

 

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No, I don't think so. I'm not sure if this thread was partially inspired by my review for Outcast of the Islands where I said that I couldn't get into it thanks to the unlikability of Trevor Howard's main character, but as I also stated there, the character has to be interesting, compelling or entertaining. I've seen and liked many movies with unsympathetic characters, including many of my favorite movies, like Raging BullTaxi DriverTreasure of the Sierra MadreThe Night of the Hunter, etc. I also don't feel the need to directly relate characters or incidents in a film to my own life or experience. I've read comments from many people over the years who have said that they prefer, and even require, movies that reflect their own experiences and/or lifestyles. Foreign cultures, racial differences, gender differences, even religious or regional differences, have kept these people from liking or even attempting to watch certain movies. I find this absurd, and feel it flies in the face of one of the greatest things about cinema: the ability to show people the point-of-view of the "other", and perhaps provide illumination and understanding that brings enlightenment, however minor.

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2 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

I've read comments from many people over the years who have said that they prefer, and even require, movies that reflect their own experiences and/or lifestyles. Foreign cultures, racial differences, gender differences, even religious or regional differences, have kept these people from liking or even attempting to watch certain movies. I find this absurd, and feel it flies in the face of one of the greatest things about cinema: the ability to show people the point-of-view of the "other", and perhaps provide illumination and understanding that brings enlightenment, however minor.

Totally agree on this. Anyone that feels this way would probably be completely miserable with all forms of the arts, whether it be cinema, music, painting etc. 

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I think the more accurate principle to realize is that the protagonist must be 'interesting' --not specifically 'sympathetic'. Reviewers lazily mistake the concept and the misapply the term when they pen their (often extremely 'informal') movie reviews. Remember, they're not exactly Rhodes scholars.

In passing, just a comment on this:

Quote

Totally agree on this. Anyone that feels this way would probably be completely miserable with all forms of the arts, whether it be cinema, music, painting etc. 

No, this has actually been verified. Audiences typically feel more comfortable attending movies which display their own culture.

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I'm not sure if that jab was directed at me, Sarge, but you did manage to also repeat the same sentiment I stated in the second post of this thread.

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Oh, I'm not jabbing at anyone. I hope you'll please pardon me if my quoting was once again, awry.

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I'm just saying that "in-groups" and "out-groups" --despite what the media may say about this--these are still very valid sociological concepts and frequently under study by psychologists and psychiatrists.

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It's essential for main characters to be interesting, but depending on what kind of story you're telling, they don't necessarily need to be sympathetic or likable.

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2 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

No, this has actually been verified. Audiences typically feel more comfortable attending movies which display their own culture.

I was saying that they would be miserable because they will be constantly disappointed if many things in the arts  don't relate to them.  

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2 minutes ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

I was saying that they would be miserable because they will be constantly disappointed if many things in the arts  don't relate to them.  

Aye, my use of the word "absurd" in my first post was not to say that I found the existence of such thinking an absurdity, but rather the thinking itself. Perhaps "foolish" would have been a better word for me to use. I don't deny that plenty of people think that way (which is why I brought it up), but rather, that I don't agree with it myself.

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In answer to this question, I suppose I'd have to say, generally no, it's not necessary for me to be sympathetic to the lead character or characters in a film for me to like a film. Although, it would definitely help my enjoyment of the film if the character or characters, and be they "likable" and/or "identifiable with" or not, are fully "fleshed out" by the script and by the actors in them, and so to better understand their motivations or reasons for them being as they are.

As an example and because this first came to mind for some reason, I'll now mention Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, and often cited by many as one of the great westerns. There is not one character in that film who I have ever found "likable" or "sympathetic" or one that I can "identify with", however I still find this film to be terrific cinema. This is perhaps because, and as I mentioned earlier, due to so many characters in it being fully fleshed-out, and the actors excellently portraying them.

(...particularly Gene Hackman, whose portrayal of the intelligent but cruel and sadistic and thus not likable Little Bill character, has become a favorite of mine)

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I think people get hung up on the idea of trying to find someone to connect with and cheer on--a reason to keep watching the film. I remember in school, learning about plot structures and character development in writing, that there are often protagonist and antagonist characters.  The protagonist is usually described as the "hero" and the antagonist is the "villain."  I think people just hung up on the concept of hero versus villain.  If there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut hero in the film, people find it difficult to find a connection.

For me personally, I just have to find the characters interesting, compelling and there has to be a hook in the story to keep me watching.  In Sweet Smell of Success for example, neither lead character is a hero.  In many ways, Tony Curtis' character is just as bad as Burt Lancaster's.  If anything, one I suppose would sympathize with Susan Harrison who plays Lancaster's sister, but even then, I find myself being a little annoyed at her.  Just grow a backbone and say "no."  Though, I'm sure Lancaster, especially that character, was intimidating.

For whatever reason, in Double Indemnity, I find myself cheering for MacMurray and Stanwyck's characters to get away with the crime, even though I (obviously) know that they won't.  However, I also cheer for Edward G. Robinson to catch MacMurray, just because his portrayal of Barton Keyes is so good.  MacMurray's character in that film is somewhat sympathetic and villainous.  He's being used by Stanwyck to get rid of her husband; but at the same time, MacMurray is trying to use his insurance expertise and experience to pull one over on boss Robinson, just to show him that he doesn't always have the right answer. 

There are also films, like Streetcar Named Desire (for example), where I didn't like any of the characters, but I still found the film interesting and compelling to watch.

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13 hours ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

I often see this in reviews of films- "I hated this film because the lead character was not  sympathetic  and there was no one to root for."

Do you all feel that you need this in a film in order to like it? One of my favorite movies is "Taxi Driver", I was fascinated by the anti social loner with crazy ideas in this head, but would not like to hang out with a real life Travis Bickle, I would try my best to avoid him. Many  great films have unlikable lead characters, Kirk Douglas in "Champion', Paul Newman in "Hud", Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire". 

Any thoughts on this?

...I take it you're asking over the recent "Doctor Who with a suitcase??" rants re "Fantastic Beasts", on the IJW thread?   :D

You can have an anti-hero like Travis Bickle or Philip Marlowe, or Kirk Douglas in "Ace in the Hole", if he's honorably anti enough, or so committed to his own particular pursuit that you "just gotta admire him" in pursuing it.  Just so long as the character can involve us all the way to Act 3.

There's an old writing-teacher-ism that there are basically TWO protagonists conquering their battles in classic stories:  Rocky Balboa, and Ebenezer Scrooge.  One fights the odds against him, to try and achieve his goal to the top of the steps through struggle and effort, and the other fights the world around him to stay the same, and refuses to see his own doubts that he himself may be his own problem, until he may or may not see the light at the end.

OTOH, telling a story about Han Solo or Anakin Skywalker, in a story that should be about Luke, is a recipe for disaster.

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I believe that the important factor is that it is possible to identify with a character. I do not mean by this: "I understand fully this character's hopes and dreams because I also am a sex worker who became a nun who is now studying for a master's degree in Sino-Welsh Archaeological Motifs in Shakespearean Sonnets."

It can be simply knowing a person of the character's type and having an appreciation for their thoughts and feelings and reactions if placed in such a situation. "Seeing things from another person's point of view" is a natural part of being human and so we can internalize to some degree the pressures the character is facing and the turmoil they cause.

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I'm sure the filmmakers feel the same way. Sometimes on TCM they show Jack Lemmon talking about the Apartment and ,who could you route for his character was letting others use his apartment so he could get ahead in business. The boss was cheating on his wife.

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15 hours ago, SunAndMoon said:

It's essential for main characters to be interesting, but depending on what kind of story you're telling, they don't necessarily need to be sympathetic or likable.

Yes! A good example is THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Slimy is interesting!

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Same here, I don't care for any of the characters in A Street Car Named DesireThe Godfather films or Once Upon A Time In America but I'll watch them. 

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18 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

 

No, this has actually been verified. Audiences typically feel more comfortable attending movies which display their own culture.

:o

Kinda makes one wonder at the popularity of AVATAR!  ;)

Sepiatone

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9 hours ago, EricJ said:

.I take it you're asking over the recent "Doctor Who with a suitcase??" rants re "Fantastic Beasts", on the IJW thread?   :D

Well I didn't read the whole thing but yes, I did notice the remark about not caring or sympathizing with any of the characters and that gave me the idea. 

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Without having any character in a film that one can "root for", a movie can be awfully boring.

If I don't gave a **** about anyone in the story, it's kinda hard to be interested.

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Typically, the hero of the story is the one whom you'd root for.  Do you ever find yourself rooting for the villain of the story?

Or on the flip-side, can a film keep you interested because you're rooting for a character to fail, die, etc. ?

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37 minutes ago, speedracer5 said:

Do you ever find yourself rooting for the villain of the story?

When the villain is more interesting than the hero, yes.

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I would not say that I would root for him in any particular manner but I do find that I sympathize with Godzilla. The same is true for the Creature from the Black Lagoon and any number of other innocents who come to be seen as villains through no fault of their own.

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