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Protagonist/Antagonist; Hero/Villain


speedracer5
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Based on what happened over at the Fred MacMurray thread; I was thinking that the idea of the protagonist/antagonist aka hero/villain was an interesting one. 

 

Typically, most films have a hero (protagonist) and a villain (antagonist).  In The Caine Mutiny (1954), it was argued that while Fred MacMurray had questionable morals, he wasn't necessarily the villain of the story.  Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg, I believe is intended to be the villain; but it could be argued that MacMurray is also the villain.  Perhaps Bogart is the bigger villain as he brings out the villainy in the other characters. 

 

While most films present a hero and a villain; there are some films where the hero has questionable traits of his own which blurs the line between "good guy" and "bad guy."

 

For example, in Errol Flynn's Uncertain Glory, he could be the protagonist or the antagonist, depending on how you look at it.

 

Flynn's character is already a convicted criminal.  He escapes from a guillotine at the beginning of the film.  Convicted criminal doesn't usually mean hero.  However, while accompanied by Detective Paul Lukas, enroute to jail (where Flynn will be re-arrested), they learn about a bridge that has been blown up by three saboteurs.  The saboteurs have taken a hundred people hostage.  Knowing that his life isn't really worth anything (as a convicted killer), Flynn offers to turn himself in as one of the saboteurs in order to save the hundred hostages.  

 

Is Flynn the antagonist for being a convicted criminal on the lam? Or, is he the protagonist for sacrificing himself to save the lives of a hundred hostages?

 

There are many films where the lines between hero and villain are blurred.  There are also many films where the antagonist becomes the protagonist.  

 

An example of an antagonist becoming a protagonist would be The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).  The Grinch was against Christmas and stole all the decorations and the roast beast; but then had a change of heart and returned everything.  The Whos graciously invited him to their holiday celebrations and The Grinch carved The Roast Beast.  

 

Are there any films where the protagonist becomes the antagonist? 

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There's lots of movies involving characters that are both and neither. I believe the term given is anti-hero.

 

The man with no name in Leone's 'A Fistful of Dollars' might be an example of this. I believe the term was used to describe Paul Newman in 'Hud' as well.

 

With the end of the "code", movies were no longer restricted to moral certitude in the character portrayals on screen ("bad" guys were allowed to win now) - and this breakage from forced ideology has provided far more nuance in how characters are explored.

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Typically, most films have a hero (protagonist) and a villain (antagonist).  In The Caine Mutiny (1954), it was argued that while Fred MacMurray had questionable morals, he wasn't necessarily the villain of the story.  Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg, I believe is intended to be the villain; but it could be argued that MacMurray is also the villain.  Perhaps Bogart is the bigger villain as he brings out the villainy in the other characters. 

 

My take on The Caine Mutiny was that Bogart was a gallant officer who was merely a victim of temporary insanity, while MacMurray was the living symbol of The Decline of the West.  Or at least that's how Jose Ferrer's final speech seemed to frame it.  Talk about rigging the game.  Give me the far more honest ending of Time Limit any day.

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These are two different things

 

The protagonist is simply the main character in the action. The antagonist is the main factor (living or inanimate) opposing him.

 

Boris Karloff is the protagonist in his Fu Manchu movie, but he is not the hero. Dramas must have protagonist(s), but do not necessarily have to have "heroes" and "villains". Who is the villain in The Subject Was Roses? Is Jack Albertson really villainous?

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Typically, most films have a hero (protagonist) and a villain (antagonist).  In The Caine Mutiny (1954), it was argued that while Fred MacMurray had questionable morals, he wasn't necessarily the villain of the story.  Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg, I believe is intended to be the villain; but it could be argued that MacMurray is also the villain.  Perhaps Bogart is the bigger villain as he brings out the villainy in the other characters. 

 

My take on The Caine Mutiny was that Bogart was a gallant officer who was merely a victim of temporary insanity, while MacMurray was the living symbol of The Decline of the West.  Or at least that's how Jose Ferrer's final speech seemed to frame it.  Talk about rigging the game.  Give me the far more honest ending of Time Limit any day.

 

What you said makes a lot of sense but after watching The Uninvited last night,  I'm not so sure that someone with temporary mental issues can't be the vilian (not that you're making that point).    Miss Holloway is the vilian of the picture (well the living one),  since her actions directly drive the negative events in the film.     At the end she goes off her rocker but that appears temporary since she was able for 17 years to run a business etc....

 

With Caine I do view Keefer as the bigger vilian (or real vilian as Ferrer's speech framed it) over Queeg since Queeg wasn't directly responsible for his actions.     When Miss Holloway sends Stella back to the haunted house she was of sound mind (well as sound as her mind would ever be!).

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Speed, just to clarify a little background about the film THE CAINE MUTINY.  In  Herman Wouk's Pulitzer prize winning book Captain Queeg's  character is somewhat more of the "villain".  Queeg is definitely a despicable man.  Part of the deal made by the film makers with the U.S. Navy (to get cooperation and the use of a ship for filming) was to downplay Queeg's behavior and make him more sympathetic by defining him as a man who was suffering from combat fatigue, he really wasn't ready to resume combat duty and be put in command of a ship.  The character of Keefer in some ways mirrors the real life character of Wouk the author of the book, Wouk was an officer who served on a ship similar to the "Caine"  during WW2.  Keefer becomes the  antagonist (who some of us refer to as the villain or heavy).  Maybe not a villain in the usual sense but Keefer is one of those guys who enjoys stirring up trouble then standing back and watching the actions of others. Right at the beginning of the film we have Keefer offering up snide remarks about the Navy and the ship (indirectly that reflects on the Caine's Captain and everyone else on board).  When Queeg comes aboard as the new Captain,   Keefer  wastes no time in going on the attack. I believe he sees Queeg as a vulnerable , shaky guy and therefore an easy target.  At no time does Keefer let up on the criticisms even though its obvious that is undermining the spirit of everyone on the Caine.   And when its  " put up or shut up"  time Keefer runs and hides. He truly becomes the villain. And as for Queeg, while early on the officers and men of the Caine think of him as the bad guy when the whole ordeal (including the trail) is over those same men all see Queeg in a much different, sympathetic way.   I should add that while the author Wouk uses himself as a basis for the Keefer character, Wouk himself never engaged in Keefer's villainous behavior.

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A film where the protagonist becomes the antagonist?  One that comes to my mind is ROADHOUSE (the 40's Richard Widmark film)  Widmark (always a favorite of mine)  starts out as a very decent, level headed guy ( although maybe not exactly  the definition of a protagonist) . When the woman he falls for goes for the other guy (Widmark's best buddy)  Widmark does an abrupt turn around and  becomes an obsessed vengeful  man. He's then out to destroy his former buddy and the girl.

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Thank you for that explanation MrRoberts.  I appreciate it.

 

I think another interesting twist on the whole Protagonist/Antagonist situation is in the film Suspicion.  Cary Grant's character is presented as a protagonist and slowly through Joan Fontaine's paranoia, his character begins to evolve into an antagonist until it reaches the climax in the car scene, when Fontaine thinks he's going to push her out of the car.  In the end, as his prior actions are explained, Grant is the protagonist once again.  Hitchcock used this device often in his films-- once you know who you're supposed to be "rooting for and against" Hitch changes it up. 

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Speed, just to clarify a little background about the film THE CAINE MUTINY.  In  Herman Wouk's Pulitzer prize winning book Captain Queeg's  character is somewhat more of the "villain".  Queeg is definitely a despicable man.  Part of the deal made by the film makers with the U.S. Navy (to get cooperation and the use of a ship for filming) was to downplay Queeg's behavior and make him more sympathetic by defining him as a man who was suffering from combat fatigue, he really wasn't ready to resume combat duty and be put in command of a ship.  The character of Keefer in some ways mirrors the real life character of Wouk the author of the book, Wouk was an officer who served on a ship similar to the "Caine"  during WW2.  Keefer becomes the  antagonist (who some of us refer to as the villain or heavy).  Maybe not a villain in the usual sense but Keefer is one of those guys who enjoys stirring up trouble then standing back and watching the actions of others. Right at the beginning of the film we have Keefer offering up snide remarks about the Navy and the ship (indirectly that reflects on the Caine's Captain and everyone else on board).  When Queeg comes aboard as the new Captain,   Keefer  wastes no time in going on the attack. I believe he sees Queeg as a vulnerable , shaky guy and therefore an easy target.  At no time does Keefer let up on the criticisms even though its obvious that is undermining the spirit of everyone on the Caine.   And when its  " put up or shut up"  time Keefer runs and hides. He truly becomes the villain. And as for Queeg, while early on the officers and men of the Caine think of him as the bad guy when the whole ordeal (including the trail) is over those same men all see Queeg in a much different, sympathetic way.   I should add that while the author Wouk uses himself as a basis for the Keefer character, Wouk himself never engaged in Keefer's villainous behavior.

 

Great writeup here, Mr.R. 

 

However, I would like to add a note that while the screenplay may have differed from the Wouk's book in regard to how the Queeg character is presented, I have to wonder if perhaps some of the credit for this sympathizing of the character might go just a little to Bogart's expertise as an actor?

 

(...and btw, from this excellent writeup of yours, i THINK I can now offer up a suggestion for an even BIGGER "villain/heavy" in this movie than EITHER Keefer OR Queeg...."The United States Navy Headquarters"...FOR of course being incompetent in placing Queeg at the helm of a U.S. Naval vessel in the FIRST place!) ;)

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House of Games in 1987 was such a film.

 

Oooooooh...good flick, obrien!

 

And if we're not talkin' about a matter of just the anti-hero and more along the lines of this(though I'm not sure this was exactly what Speedy had in mind here), the 1987 Kevin Costner starring film, "No Way Out" has a "twist ending" somewhat similar to this one.

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Oooooooh...good flick, obrien!

 

And if we're not talkin' about a matter of just the anti-hero and more along the lines of this(though I'm not sure this was exactly what Speedy had in mind here), the 1987 Kevin Costner starring film, "No Way Out" has a "twist ending" somewhat similar to this one.

I haven't seen House of Games, so I cannot comment on it; but the whole intent of this thread (I may not have explained it very well) was to discuss how different the "bad guy" and "good guy" roles can be presented in a film-- if the film even has characters that fit within those categories.  The good thing that did come about in the little ruckus in the Fred MacMurray thread was a discussion on how different the villainous and heroic roles are presented in a film and how the hero and/or bad guy might not be who they seem-- or even whether or not there is a true bad guy or good guy. 

 

I think the topic of characterizations in film is interesting and I'm glad that filmmakers didn't stick with the clear-cut hero defeating the bad guy storyline.  While these films can be entertaining, it is interesting when the character formula is mixed up a bit and isn't clear.  The filmmaker leaves it up to the audience to decide who to be for and/or against.

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Great writeup here, Mr.R. 

 

However, I would like to add a note that while the screenplay may have differed from the Wouk's book in regard to how the Queeg character is presented, I have to wonder if perhaps some of the credit for this sympathizing of the character might go just a little to Bogart's expertise as an actor?

 

(...and btw, from this excellent writeup of yours, i THINK I can now offer up a suggestion for an even BIGGER "villain/heavy" in this movie than EITHER Keefer OR Queeg...."The United States Navy Headquarters"...FOR of course being incompetent in placing Queeg at the helm of a U.S. Naval vessel in the FIRST place!) ;)

Dargo, I like the idea of an "inanimate" object (although inanimate may not apply to The Navy in this case, or maybe depending on your opinion of that organization, it does, lol) serving in an antagonist and/or protagonist role.

 

I'd like to argue that the trailer in The Long, Long Trailer is the antagonist-- set to drive Lucy and Desi apart.

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There's lots of movies involving characters that are both and neither. I believe the term given is anti-hero.

 

The man with no name in Leone's 'A Fistful of Dollars' might be an example of this. I believe the term was used to describe Paul Newman in 'Hud' as well.

 

With the end of the "code", movies were no longer restricted to moral certitude in the character portrayals on screen ("bad" guys were allowed to win now) - and this breakage from forced ideology has provided far more nuance in how characters are explored.

Thank you.  I agree with you re: anti-hero.  In the Flynn example I provided, Flynn's character is most likely the anti-hero in that case. 

 

I believe it could be argued that there is also an "anti-villain." The film I present for this example is Public Enemies (2009).  Johnny Depp portrays John Dillinger.  The film presents Dillinger as the "hero" in the same way actual newspapers from the 1930s presented the bank robbers of the day.  While I knew that Dillinger was eventually going to be gunned down outside of the movie theater, I couldn't help but root for him to not go to that viewing of Manhattan Melodrama and not get killed.  However, in the film, the FBI is presented in a villainous role, as they are the ones trying to stop Dillinger and are the ones who set him up to be murdered outside the theater.  The FBI are just trying to stop a dangerous criminal, they aren't the villain in the conventional sense; but in the case of Dillinger and company, they are the ones out to stop the famed celebrity bank robbers.

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Usually when that happens, the protagonist is really only seemingly so, and is unveiled toward the end as the real baddie.

Agreed.  That seems to happen a lot in the Hitchcock films.  At the other end of the spectrum, are there any films where the villain turns out to be the hero? Perhaps the villain was just misunderstood.

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I haven't seen House of Games, so I cannot comment on it; but the whole intent of this thread (I may not have explained it very well) was to discuss how different the "bad guy" and "good guy" roles can be presented in a film-- if the film even has characters that fit within those categories.  The good thing that did come about in the little ruckus in the Fred MacMurray thread was a discussion on how different the villainous and heroic roles are presented in a film and how the hero and/or bad guy might not be who they seem-- or even whether or not there is a true bad guy or good guy.

 

I think the topic of characterizations in film is interesting and I'm glad that filmmakers didn't stick with the clear-cut hero defeating the bad guy storyline.  While these films can be entertaining, it is interesting when the character formula is mixed up a bit and isn't clear.  The filmmaker leaves it up to the audience to decide who to be for and/or against.

 

Speedy, the sentence of yours in the above and which I highlighted definitely would apply to not only Costner's "No Way Out" but also quite a bit to obrienmundy's suggestion of "House of Games", that latter one, if you've never watched it, I suggest you seek it out...good film.

 

However once again, I'm still not entirely sure if your thread's intent was for people to mention movies which contain what one would loosely call the "hero" in a movie but who is presented with both "good" and "bad" qualities, OR if you intent was more toward the idea of, say, "a hero who goes bad" or one who might surprise you at the end of a film by showing themselves to be not as "good" as you were led to believe?

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Speedy, the sentence of yours in the above and which I highlighted definitely would apply to not only Costner's "No Way Out" but also quite a bit to obrienmundy's "House of Games", that latter one, if you've never watched it, I suggest you seek it out...good film.

 

However once again, I'm still not entirely sure if your thread's intent was for people to mention movies which contain what one would loosely call the "hero" in a movie but who is presented with both "good" and "bad" qualities, OR if you intent was more toward the idea of, say, "a hero who goes bad" or one who might surprise you at the end of a film by showing themselves to be not as "good" as you were led to believe?

Thank you Dargo.  I'll try to seek it out the House of Games, perhaps Netflix has it. 

 

I probably didn't explain my thread well, or maybe there isn't anything to discuss and I'm just being lame.  Lol.  Probably more the latter of the "hero who goes bad" or the "villain that goes good" and/or perhaps the idea of whether a "hero" character is really worth being the hero as the things that he does aren't necessarily that great; likewise a villain who perhaps is just "misunderstood" and isn't all that bad.  I was trying to go beyond just naming movies with heroes/villains; but maybe to discuss how these characters are more than what they seem?

 

I still don't know if that made sense-- it just seemed that amidst all the heavy/villain drama in that other thread, there was a real discussion in there somewhere about characters.  I thought I'd try to give that conversation a place and continue it; but I may have made the intent of my thread too ambiguous.  

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Agreed.  That seems to happen a lot in the Hitchcock films.  At the other end of the spectrum, are there any films where the villain turns out to be the hero? Perhaps the villain was just misunderstood.

 

Well, not really a "villain"(OR for that matter a "heavy"...I know, I know, don't start..LOL), but Ronald Colman's Sydney Carton character in "The Tale of Two Cities" is a layabout, a wastrel and generally an overall rake until his ultimate sacrifice at the end of the film.

 

(...btw, how'd ya like that whole "layabout, wastrel and rake" thing there, huh?!...pretty good, EH?!) ;)

 

LOL

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Thank you Dargo.  I'll try to seek it out the House of Games, perhaps Netflix has it. 

 

I probably didn't explain my thread well, or maybe there isn't anything to discuss and I'm just being lame.  Lol.  Probably more the latter of the "hero who goes bad" or the "villain that goes good" and/or perhaps the idea of whether a "hero" character is really worth being the hero as the things that he does aren't necessarily that great; likewise a villain who perhaps is just "misunderstood" and isn't all that bad.  I was trying to go beyond just naming movies with heroes/villains; but maybe to discuss how these characters are more than what they seem?

 

I still don't know if that made sense-- it just seemed that amidst all the heavy/villain drama in that other thread, there was a real discussion in there somewhere about characters.  I thought I'd try to give that conversation a place and continue it; but I may have made the intent of my thread too ambiguous.  

 

Well first Speedy, I think it's a great idea for a thread, and so maybe instead of confining it to a specific intent, you should welcome all offerings which would encompass all the variations on this general theme.

 

(...the only reason I questioned you here was because I didn't want to sidetrack your thread...seems that sort'a thing is VERY frowned upon in some quarters around here lately!!!) LOL

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Well first Speedy, I think it's a great idea for a thread, and so maybe instead of confining it to a specific intent, you should welcome all offerings which would encompass all the variations on this general theme.

Agreed Dargo.  Thank you for helping me develop "the point" to this thread.  Lol. 

 

All: Read the exchange between Dargo and I. That's the "gist" of this thread :-)

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Agreed.  That seems to happen a lot in the Hitchcock films.  At the other end of the spectrum, are there any films where the villain turns out to be the hero? Perhaps the villain was just misunderstood.

Another Hitchcock film (also starring Cary Grant) that might qualify here is NOTORIOUS.  Grant's government agent comes off as a rather despicable guy, he treats Ingrid rather poorly (the cad!). And Claude Rains actually is in love with and totally devoted to Ingrid. All that changes only  when Rains finds out his wife's true intentions. And only in the last few minutes does Grant suddenly turn noble hero and save the girl.  Am I the only one who actually feels sorry for Claude Rains at the end of the film ?

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In the movie "Megiddo" (2001), the hero is the U.S. (ex) President, David Alexander (Michael Biehn) who fought against his evil brother Stone (Michael York), the president of the European Union.

 

Protagonist, David Alexander (Michael Biehn)

Michael%2BBiehn.jpg

 

vs Antagonist Stone (Michael York)

megiddo1.jpg

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Well, not really a "villain"(OR for that matter a "heavy"...I know, I know, don't start..LOL), but Ronald Colman's Sydney Carton character in "The Tale of Two Cities" is a layabout, a wastrel and generally an overall rake until his ultimate sacrifice at the end of the film.

 

(...btw, how'd ya like that whole "layabout, wastrel and rake" thing there, huh?!...pretty good, EH?!) ;)

 

LOL

I liked the layabout, wastrel and rake.  I'm a sucker for British slang.  Though I'll admit, I had to look up "layabout" (although I had an idea what it meant and I was right) and "wastrel."  I knew "rake."

 

I haven't seen The Tale of Two Cities.  I tend to avoid Dickens.  At least his books.  The experience of being forced to read Great Expectations in the 9th grade traumatized me forever.  What a boring book! But I digress... are the Dickens movies as dull as his writing? I'd be willing to give this film a chance, I liked Ronald Colman in The Talk of the Town.  I just hope the film isn't as tedious as Dickens' books seem to be. I think he must have been paid by the word!

 

I like participating (or lurking if I don't feel I have anything worthwhile to contribute) in these threads, I learn about a lot of films to watch.  I haven't seen nearly as many films as people here have.  Right now, I've lost my access to TCM due to the dispute with Dish-- so I'm relying on the stuff I have recorded on the DVR and on Netflix.  I can also watch vicariously through postings on the message board.  Lol.

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Another Hitchcock film (also starring Cary Grant) that might qualify here is NOTORIOUS.  Grant's government agent comes off as a rather despicable guy, he treats Ingrid rather poorly (the cad!). And Claude Rains actually is in love with and totally devoted to Ingrid. All that changes only  when Rains finds out his wife's true intentions. And only in the last few minutes does Grant suddenly turn noble hero and save the girl.  Am I the only one who actually feels sorry for Claude Rains at the end of the film ?

I felt sorry for Claude Rains too! Poor guy, he never gets the girl.

 

I'm thinking that Eva Marie Saint's character in North By Northwest would qualify as well.  She meets Cary Grant on the train and seems to be a good ally.  He then finds out that she's in cahoots with definite villain James Mason.  Then she switches sides again when Mason is set on killing her.

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I think the 1935 Colman version is just about the best movie version of Dickens' book. And I think IF you give it a chance, you'll might discover it to be "a far, far better Dickens' tale than you've ever seen" before.

 

(...sorry, couldn't resist...and yeah, the story moves along at a brisker pace than most of his other stories) ;) 

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