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The Good, the Bad, and the Judgemental


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I was inspired to start this thread after reading yet more comments about *Sunset Boulevard* and the various opinions on the main character's moral standards.

(Please, let's not make this yet another discussion about Joe. There's at least two other threads here to talk about that.)


Maybe it's just because of access to the internet, and the plethora of comments one sees there about everything under the sun, but it seems to me that people are very judgemental about others' behaviour.

Now the majority of these comments are about events in real life. But I've noticed that this kind of moral righteousness often extends to a character's actions in movies, too.


I'm not saying that I never judge a character's choices - of course I do. But I have found that often people are very hard on fictional characters, and judge them in a way that they themselves would not want to be judged (no, I'm not trying to drag in the New Testament here.)


When you watch a movie, do you lose interest in the character if they behave in a way you deem to be morally repugnant? And what, in your view, constitutes "moral repugnance"?


I'll give just one example, and then hopefully others will jump in (or maybe not, it's the weekend...)

In *Scarlet Street*, Eddie G.'s character embezzles funds from the company where he's been employed for over 20 years. He does it out of desperation ( as I suspect most embezzlement crimes are), and because he wants to rid himself of one woman, and is besotted with another.

The only emotion I feel for Chris when he does this is anxiety that he'll be caught. I'm not thinking, "Oh, what a contemptible guy, stealing his employer's money." I'm thinking, "Poor old Chris, he's lost it. No good will come of this..."


Anyway, does anyone agree that we, the audience, can be a little smug, a little self-righteous, in our judgement of our cinematic friends up there on the screen?


ps -ok, go ahead and include Joe from SB if you want. He IS the character who inspired this idea.

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When you watch a movie, do you lose interest in the character if they behave in a way you deem to be morally repugnant?




No. In film noir, you have to sort of expect that at least 80% of the characters will be morally repugnant.


But I do judge the actors' performances in every film I watch. If I feel the performance has been done incorrectly, not consistent with what the screenwriter intended, I do hold that against the movie. (That seems like a topic for another thread, actually!)

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I only refuse to watch certain movies because the subject matter is of no interest to me, the genre is one I don't really care for, or the cast is of people I never liked in movies. And even THEN, I make exceptions.


But there are some people in here that refuse to watch any movie that displays some form of behavior that repels them.


I can understand that if it's limited to gore or sexual explicitness. But they indicate that even a movie that's going great will get turned off if a character is shown as abusive to women or animals or some such rot. Even though that abuse isn't real, just playacted for the film. And it doesn't matter to them if that character's behavior is a vital part of the plot.


Makes no sense to me to be judgemental of the behavior of a person who's in most cases a creation of fiction.



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Well, TB, nice observation, but I have to say, "morally repugnant behaviour" is definitely NOT limited to film noir.

Except maybe for broad comedies and musicals ( and even then, bad behaviour can rear its ugly head), I'd say that immoral actions appear in almost every kind of movie.


( And yes, thanks for noting, being put off by an actor's poor depiction of a character is indeed an entirely different topic, albeit one that's just as interesting.)

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Sepia baby, this is what I get for being too logorrheic (look it up; I did !) I should keep my posts, especially the "original" ones on a thread, short and hopefully, sweet.

I was not really asking if you would refuse to watch a movie or turn it off if the character(s) did something that did not conform to your own personal moral code. I can see that my post kind of sounded like that.


But what I was really wanting to know was if people judge a film character when he or she does something generally regarded as "immoral", and if your sympathies with that character diminish when that occurs.


I don't think I've ever turned off a movie simply because someone in it does something "bad".

Hell, we'd never watch anything interesting if that were the case. Moral conflict is at the essence of many films, it's what makes them compelling. Even *The Secret Garden* (any version) presents a few moral dilemmas to the audience.


I want the characters to do morally questionable things, thereby hangs the tension and drama of the story. And I rarely "judge" them. Or, maybe I do, but not because they break a law or have sex in the back of a car, or commit other "morally reprehensible" acts.

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I love horror films. What Fuad Ramses does to the ladies in the seminal film *Blood Feast* (1963) is certainly as repugnant as it gets. Yet it's part of what movies are for. With respect (and affection) Miss W., baby, I think IMHO this is a silly thread.

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Swithin wrote:


>I love horror films. What Fuad Ramses does to the ladies in the seminal film Blood Feast (1963) is certainly as repugnant as it gets. Yet it's part of what movies are for. With respect (and affection) Miss W., baby, I think IMHO this is a silly thread.



Swithin mon ami, I am not offended, because if this thread were what you seem to think it is, I would agree with you. It would be silly and unnecessary.

Perhaps you didn't see the post where I wrote "I want a film's characters to "be bad".

My problem here is a difficulty in articulating what I mean.

Of course, movies - and not just horror films - can be and often are filled with repugnant images. One can choose to watch such films or not. That's not what I'm talking about.


Maybe I should get back to *Sunset Boulevard* to demonstrate what I'm trying to talk about here.

Many posters wrote that they felt Joe's behaviour was morally repugnant, that he was a "cad". They judged him and his actions.


I have noticed there is a very severe, almost Puritanical sometimes, judgement about fictional characters if they do anything the viewer personally feels is "immoral".

I've noticed it elsewhere: here's another example (this is about the television show "Mad Men", so if you haven't watched it all yet and plan to, don't read.)

A character in the series, a fully developed personality, and for the most part a sympathetic one, embezzles some of the company's funds while in a desperate mental state.

When one of his partners discovers this, he is fired. He begs for "a second chance", but is told the best he can expect is an honourable exit, ( by resigning instead of public humiliation from the revelation of what he's done.)

The character later commits suicide as a result of this decision.


When I read the comments on a blog about this incident, all of them read that the character should indeed have been fired. Not one said that the man -who was basically a decent person, and loyal to the company-should have been given a second chance. Everyone was judging the character's moral behaviour as though they were literally in a court of law.

I seem to be the only person who felt that what one bases such a decision on - whether to fire someone or not if they've, say, stolen some company funds - should be on the person as a whole, not just one mistake they've made. It should include considerations of kindness and forgiveness, and a willingness to give that person a second chance.


I felt that there was a similar harsh judgement of the William Holden character in S.B. My opinion of Joe was based on everything I knew about him (what Wilder and Holden have given us about him) as much as his actions.

I don't care if someone steals or embezzles or commits adultery or many other actions considered "immoral". How I judge them depends entirely on how they are presented in the film, on the reasons we're given for why the character does what he does.

I just started this thread because I've noticed a tendency in our culture (including the culture of these message boards) to condemn characters who aren't models of "good behaviour".

But to me, being "a good person" is about much more than whether they always obey the law and never have extramarital sex, etc.

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Swithin, there are too many people, both in movies and in real life, who do not subscribe to that easy-going gem, "Nobody's perfect !"


I was prompted to start this thread because I do see an overly judgemental attitude everywhere these days. I think, ironically, people are more self-righteous and unforgiving than they were a couple of decades or so ago. (Again, I think this has a lot to do with the internet, and how people see and read about bad behaviour all the time, and feel free to comment on it.)


People even judge behaviour in old movies that was completely a part of the culture in the past, such as smoking and heavy drinking.

A LOT of movies depict a character who makes a decision to steal or commit some kind of fraud or who has multiple sexual partners. This is the kind of "judgement" I'm talking about, where viewers label the character as "immoral" or "bad". They dismiss the character, without taking into consideration the reasons why he or she is behaving as they are.

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The problem I have associated with this type of discusion is that one is only allowed two choices. You did this in your example of Eddie G.'s character Chris when you say ',,the only emotion I feel,,'.


Can't one have a more nuanced POV. Can't one have multiple emotions as it relates to Chris? e.g. Chris is a thief and what he did was wrong, but I have compassion for Chris because of the situation he was in.


Also, when we were discussing Joe I believe you made a comment to the effect of 'how dto you know that if you were in the same situation, you wouldn't do the same thing'. Well one of the main reasons I called Joe a 'cad' was that I was a cad myself up until my late 20s. Yea, a selfish person that wasn't concerned about how my behaviour impacted other. So I wasn't judging Joe from the POV of 'I'm better than him' but instead from an "I was like him, and I'm glad I changed'.

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For me, one reason why movies are fascinating is to get inside the head, so to speak, of characters who are very different from myself, who might do things that I would never do. Or maybe things that I've thought about but would be too fearful to act on . (no, I'm not talking about any one thing in particular.)

There are quite a few actions a character might perform that do repel me (such as murder) but even then, I'm drawn into the story.

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Funny, I think people accept things like smoking in films as part of the past. People do have a problem accepting that certain bad things about society in the past would of course be reflected in films. Not to open the Hattie McDaniel thread again, but this whole subject is so diffuse. I think today's society is even more forgiving -- it seems that every one who commits a heinous act is analyzed as to why the poor dear did the bad thing. In the past, they were much less forgiving!

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You're right, james. A good film with good acting and believable characters, believably portrayed, is going to elicit a combination of feelings from the audience.

A three-dimensional character who does something generally regarded as "wrong", if he's well-written and well-acted ( as Edward G, Robinson is in *Scarlet Street* ) IS going to draw more than one response from the viewer.

I guess what I meant was, I was a lot more concerned about Edward G.;s character getting into trouble than I was about his committing a crime. If he'd gotten away with it, I would have been glad for him.

Of course, they can't have that in a film made in 1945. Besides, since the movie was about Chris's ever greater descent into obsession and deceit, it would not have been nearly as good a film if he had gotten away with that embezzlement.

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I believe that a great deal of the judgmental-ism we encounter in forums and comment sections - with regards to film, film characters or real-life events - are examples of hypocrisy. If the commenters were to honestly remember all the moments of their own lives and of their own secret selves, they might be less prone to pounce.

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I agree darkblue. I'd also add that there is always going to be posters on the internet that are just plain grumps and crazies who love to put others, films, books, etc down. Last night I watched Bill Maher. He talked about how on the internet you'll see posts cursing and putting politicians down. What was so funny was that after showing some of those posts cursing and putting people in the news down, it then went to cursing The Cheesecake Factory LOL all the way to cursing Betty White LOL. I laughed for literally minutes. It's so true, there will always be a sour, bitter pill element out there, to critcize and judge, not necessarily because they believe it, but just because....

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As we discussed with Joe one key area is if we (the audience), is sympathetic to a flawed character. If the intend of the character as written and directed is to get the audience's sympathy.


Chris?s character is the only one we have sympathy for in this "love triangle". Note the brief early scenes that feature Chris's wife and his unhappy marriage. These scenes were done not to justify his future criminal acts but instead for us to sympathize with Chris and to get a better understanding of why he had to do what he did.


Chris does get away with murder while Johnny is unfairly hanged but of course we don't feel sorry for Johnny. I don't see anyone yelling at their TV saying 'hey, that is unfair, Chris needs to get the death penalty!'. Instead we have comparison for a flawed, but basically decent human being due to a well written, well-acted complex character portrayal.

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Miss W, I think this is a fabulous thread!


I never would not watch a film, any film due to the actions of a character on the screen. Recently I was talking to someone who said they won't watch a certain network on tv, because they are biased and I had to laugh thinking how does one know they are biased unless they watch and check on it occasionally.


But I've gone off topic. All drama or even comedy goes back to Greek standards of playmaking in showing certain conflicts that need to be resolved which is what makes the storyline. Without that one does not even probably have anything worth watching. Even in Some Like It Hot a very fun and frivilous film we have the subtext of the boys escaping the clutches of the gangsters which precipitates the dressing in drag and the plotline.


I've seen Salo and though repugnant in many ways there are also some well made points about society and behaviour that are worth watching. I always thought it was odd that the Catholic Church had films they condemned, in their Legion of Decency reviews that were good films, like The Pumpkin Eater just because some of the situations did not meet with their moral standards. This would imply that behaviour one personally does not approve of, is not allowed to be discussed which seems to me to violate rational thought.


Again...wonderful thread idea, but then you are called Miss Wonderly so why am I not surprised.


Edited by: CaveGirl on Sep 21, 2013 2:39 PM

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Just to comment on your comments about MM, after that episode aired, I spoke with 3 different friends who felt Don had done the right thing. Lane embezzeled and needed to be fired. I happen to AGREE with you, an unpopular belief I might add. I was appalled at Don's behavior and felt he should have paid the money back for Lane, and let it go.


As far as Joe goes, I never felt he was a cad. I felt sympathy for him. caught up in a struggle to get out of debt, have success in his career. Had he not been so desperate from the beginning he never would have moved in with Norma. He and Betty had a lot in common and she wanted Joe, I don't judge his interest in Betty as lousey. Had Joe been able to get away from Norma (alive) , he and Betty might have lived "happily ever after" . their script accepted and both reaching success in their careers. I don't see anything wrong with that. Ne never wanted to intentionally hurt Norma, he wanted to save hinself. People fall in and out of love, Betty couldn't have loved Joe's friend deeply, if she could so easily have fallen for Joe.


Norma was headed for disaster, without Joe's help.

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So why did Wilder have Betty be the girlfriend of Joe's friend Artie? I doubt Wilder wasn't trying to communicate something to us here.


Joe asked Artie if he could move in with him. Therefore one possible reason for having Betty as Artie's girlfriend is to break the friendship between Artie and Joe. Of course this assumes Artie was upset with Joe for losing his relationship with Betty. That is never communicated (as far as I can remember), but we never see Artie again.


Later on, once Joe is fully trapped by Norma, Joe has one less friend to turn too. The noir web closes in on Joe even more since he needed a friend like Artie.


So if Joe?s friend Artie viewed Joe in a negative light, why can?t I! (ha ha).

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You certainly can ;) I never said Joe was a saint. there's no question he was a flawed character, but circumstance had quite a bit to do with it. Remember how Joe chased Betty out of Norma's house. He didn't want to hurt anybody, he wanted to save himself. He cared enough about Betty not to want her to be dragged into the mess.


I understand why you are bothered by his behavior towards Arnie and probably feel at a minimum it was unethical, no agrument and you are certainly entitled to feel that way, I just have more sympathy for a guy who got himself caught up in a tangled mess. The fact that Betty could have fallen in love with Joe and out of love with Arnie is that really Joe's fault? didn't Betty have a part in that?


Wonder if Betty and Arnie would/could get back together with Joe out of the picture?

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Well Joe did break a bro-code rule. Of course Joe isn't to blame for Betty falling in love with him (and who can blame any gal for that since Joe looked like William Holden!).


But the bro-code requries at least a phone call to explain to your friend that things just happened and that one is sorry if feeling where hurt. I (of course I didn't expect such a scene to be in the movie).


Oh, and I'm not sure you have more sympathy for Joe than I do. Maybe it just takes me longer to get sympathy for Joe than for you.


I don't feel for Joe until the 3 reel while you start getting that feeling in the first reel! (I'm joking when I mention reels but you get the idea).

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I'm going to temporarily derail my own thread.

James' mention of "the bro code" whereby a man must refuse the love of his best friend's girl, even if said girl prefers him (to her current boyfriend who is also the first guy's best friend) reminded me of this lovely Arthur Alexander tune.

The video itself is a bit cheesey, but it does include the lyrics, which beautifully illustrate the "bro code" in action. Also, the song itself is quite good, as are all of poor old A.A.'s songs.




(Actually, the video is very cheesey.Just listen to the words and music.)


Edited by: misswonderly on Sep 21, 2013 4:41 PM

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The "bro code"?


This reminds me of a code I made up that I call the Catholic Girls Code.


If a guy asks you out that you don't care for at all, and he has dated anyone from your class...then you tell them you can't go out with him, due to the CGC..


Ergo, something like this "Uh, you dated my friend Laura and for that reason I just could never go out with you, sorry."


I used this on some guy when I was in my twenties and the fool believed it. Apparently he told my friend that he had previously dated and asked her to explain it and she was flummoxed, but never let on that it was bogus.


This shows that just following a code that ostensibly SEEMS honorable, can be used for evil purposes.

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