Perspective in Cinema: Who is there to Root For?

I think Dogma is similar in some ways. Matt Damon is Loki, the angel of death, who, along with Bartleby (Ben Affleck), has been banished from Heaven. See, Loki got tired of killing all the time at God’s whim, so he resigned from the position. God quickly saw to it that Loki never entered Heaven again. But Loki and Bartleby find a loophole in the Bible that would allow them back into Heaven. The only problem is that this would contradict God’s command, and since God is infallible, the universe would come to an end. The paradox would simply be too much. The powers of Heaven commission the last scion—the last living descendant of Jesus—to stop Loki and Bartleby from fulfilling their mission.

And I have no idea who’s the good guy. I mean, it’s kind of bad that Loki and Bartleby are going to risk literally everything to try to get back into God’s kingdom. But it’s also pretty crappy that God would create an angel for the sole purpose of killing, especially when murder is against the Ten Commandments. On top of that, Loki was uncomfortable with it, and I imagine God replied with, “My way or the highway.”

I didn’t want the universe to end, but I didn’t want Loki and Bartleby to fail in their quest either. They should have usurped God. But I guess they saw what happened to that one guy…

No One Really Appeals to Me…

And then sometimes there are movies in which there aren’t any good or bad characters. Or you don’t really care which is which. Or you know which is which, but there’s still no one to side with.

I’ve talked about Splice before. You know, the movie where that scientist couple splices human genes with those of animals, creating a female creature that the male scientist has sex with. And then, like their other experiments, the creature becomes male. Sensing competition, it kills the male scientist and rapes and impregnates the female scientist. I don’t condone murder or rape, but I did not feel sorry for either of the main characters. Once I realized the scientists sucked, I started cheering on the creature. And that was only twenty minutes into the movie.

Kevin Smith’s Red State purposely gives us no one to root for. A group of adolescent boys answer an online ad to have sex with a middle-aged woman. But they don’t get the orgy they were hoping for. They’re taken hostage by a Westboro Baptist-like militant church group who kill sinners and homosexuals in cold blood, claiming to be doing God’s work.

The teens were kind of unlikable from the beginning, not that I wanted them to die, but I wasn’t really upset when they did. Then, the ATF comes in and creates a situation reminiscent of Waco, Texas.

The church group was definitely the evil entity in this movie, but the ATF wasn’t exactly a godsend either. (Sorry, I had to.) They end up killing quite a few innocent people themselves. In the end, no one really wins, and I’m left with an uneasy feeling.

And I like it!

It’s really fascinating to me how the way in which a story is told can make bad guys seem good and vice versa, or how they can make both characters (or groups of characters) completely unlikable and still leave us with a decent movie.

I’d like to hear other examples if you’ve got them!

  • lahti

    all the tarantino movies has these characters. The bride = bad, Butch = bad, jules and vincent = bad ,Stuntman mike = bad, Mr.White = bad , The Bastards = yeah they kill nazis, but the way they do it sometimes makes them bad.

  • Johannes P Anderson

    I never understood how people can take Hayley’s side in Hard Candy. Sure, Jeff’s grooming of an underage girl is obviously illegal and pretty creepy, but it’s made clear that Hayley is an unusually mature and intelligent 14-year-old. At no point did I feel that Jeff was taking advantage of Hayley or manipulating her into doing something she didn’t want to do. With that in mind, Jeff’s crime doesn’t seem all that heinous.

    Hayley on the other hand drugs, assaults, physically and psychologically tortures Jeff. Aside from the underage grooming, she had no evidence that he had committed any crime at all.

    By the time Jeff kills himself, Hayley’s mind games have got him so messed up that the suicide may not even be a clear admission of complicity in the crimes. It could just be an escape from the horrible position Hayley has put him in.

  • Charlie Ward

    Yikes, Johnannes. Just. . .yikes.

  • Johannes P Anderson

    @Charlie Ward. Can you elaborate? Are you saying “yikes” as in, “yikes, that guy makes an amazing point” or “yikes, that guy just defended a dirty pedo”