In many stories, a villain serves as a foil to the protagonist, challenging his/her values and driving the plot forward. The protagonist is often the hero precisely because of how they interact with the villain.
But what happens when the villain is the main character? What happens when the perspective of the story is of someone that we cannot identify with, cannot root for, and cannot emulate? This is the case of the anti-hero.
Although sparse in movies and television, the anti-hero presents an interesting opportunity for the audience. Just as the inspiring figure in aspirational works challenges the audience to seek more by filling them with hope, the anti-hero does so by showing them what will happen if we don’t shape up. Often beginning as relatable and identifiable, the anti-hero progresses throughout a story in the direction they shouldn’t, giving in to their desires and building upon their flaws until they are nothing but a villain, a character that we want nothing to do with.
This week, Br. Tito and I discuss some of cinema’s most iconic anti-heroes and share what we think we can learn from them.
My favorite show of all time is The West Wing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this multiple times before. Between the amazing writing, dynamic acting, high drama, and subtle humor, I can’t think of a show I’d rather watch 1000 times than this. Because it’s more than just entertainment, more than just something to fill the time. When I watch that show, I am challenged to new ways of thinking, inspired and filled with hope, and find myself wondering what could be.
Of course, there has been one criticism of the show that I have accepted over the years: it is a bit unrealistic in its optimism. Painting a world in which Republicans and Democrats occasionally work together (while still hating each other, of course), politicians admit their faults and change their minds, and idealistic people with big ideas and open hearts are running the government (and do a decent job of it!), the viewer can’t help but sit back and say, “Wait, that’s not how the government works.”
It’s true. In its own time (1999-2006) and again today, many have offered the idea that it serves primarily as an escape from the reality of our politics, an opportunity for people to hide from the present situation in live in a fantasy world we wish were real. I’ll admit that I fall into this category at times.
But I think there’s something more to it than that. The West Wing may paint the world a bit too optimistically, but I find it to be less of a work of escapism and more of a work of aspiration. The West Wing presents the world, not as it is, but as it could be. Nothing in the show is so otherworldly that it is completely unbelievable. There is no magic, no superpowers. The characters live and work in the real world and have proper human emotions and capabilities. Everything about them is believable and possible. The world that it presents does not exist, sure, but it is one that is just beyond our grasp. When we watch the characters struggle with the events before them and show enormous character in doing the right thing, we get an opportunity to see what would be possible if we all made a change.
This, to me, is a genius work of fiction, and the jumping off point for me and Br. Tito this week. How can art challenge us to be better by presenting stories that are admittedly unrealistic and overly optimistic?
I love a good comedy. Especially after a long day dealing with stressful and burdensome situations, there’s no better way to unwind than to have a good laugh. Often exaggerating life situations, failing to accept consequences for actions, and presenting us a world far from our own, comedies offer enough reality that we don’t need to think too hard, but not enough that we have to invest a lot of emotional energy. What can you do but relax and enjoy the ride? In many cases, a good comedy serves as an escape from what’s going on around us.
And yet, comedy can actually serve quite the opposite purpose, if done well. As Br. Tito and I discuss in this week’s podcast, using humor in art can be an extremely effective way to teach, engage people on difficult topics, and breakdown barriers that separate us. With our defenses down and our spirits up, we sometimes find ourselves unwittingly dealing with topics that we would otherwise avoid… and even enjoying the process.
More than a farce, more than an escape, effective comedy can actually be quite impactful on our world.
After a little over a month off, Br. Tito and I are back at it! And boy… did we pick a heavy topic to start off.
Imagine being lost in space. Now imagine being lost in space, alone, for 21 years. Now imagine being lost in space, alone, for 21 years, knowing that you could technically “try” to fly back to earth, but you’re waiting for your fellow astronauts to return from their mission… but they’re ten years late and you have no idea if and when they’ll return.
Also, there is no earth to go back to, because earth has become uninhabitable and the whole point of the mission is to find a replacement planet meaning that you could be the last living thing in all of existence.
*Slumps into pit of loneliness and despair*
That is just one of the gut-wrenching, anxiety-inducing moments of the movie Interstellar. Imaginative and complex, this ambitious work of Christopher Nolan takes the viewer where they have probably never gone before—physically, through a worm hole and to a galaxy light years away—and emotionally, to an existential crisis right there within them. This movie has questions about the nature of existence, a philosophy of love, incredible special effects, high action, thoughtful drama, music by Hans Zimmer, and lots and lots of mathematical jargon.
Okay, that last one might not be for everyone.
This podcast is full of spoilers, so be warned, but frankly, what makes this movie amazing is not “what happens” but the experience along the way. Br. Tito and I could tell you everything about the movie—and we basically do in this podcast—and it wouldn’t take away the powerful effect the movie has on you. There’s just something about how this movie makes you feel and the questions that it evokes in you that makes it a stunning masterpiece.
In college, each semester follows the same pattern: you study for 15 weeks, and at the end you bring everything together in a blue book where you take your final exam. Just thinking about those little blue books gives me anxiety.
In podcasts, at least the way Br. Tito and I are doing it, there is a similar pattern: you ramble for 11 weeks, and at the end you bring everything together in a discussion about the Green Book for a season finale. This process was much more fun.
You see, in our first season, Br. Tito and I talked about how the world is more than just good and bad people, and that we should avoid such labels; what the nature and limits of getting offended were; the “happily ever after” trope; “based on a true story” movies, and how these often played on nostalgia; we looked at storytelling as a means of sharing one’s life and breaking down barriers; and how to handle conflicts. And while each of these topics is independent and covers a wide variety of genres, we found a movie that has elements of almost everything we’ve talked about this year (sorry, no virtual reality world or death). That movie? Green Book.
As always, click above to listen, and we want to thank you all for joining us this semester. We had a great time figuring out what we were doing and plan to be back at it in mid-January.