I was watching the film EPIC last week, a moderately decent animated feature with a few notable flaws. One of them being having a villain without much in the way of redeemable qualities, who is the yang to the forest peoples Ying. His job in the film is to bring decay to the forest. In a sense he is a bringer of death. The plot goes that he gets bored with his job and wants to bring ruin and death to everything in the forest, making himself ruler of a dead, decaying world. This is not dissimilar to the film RISE OF THE GUARDIANS which came out last year, where the villain Pitch Black (aka the Boogeyman) wants to bring nightmares to children all over the world because he is outcast and bored with his job.
I’d like to address a problem with both these characters that I think is an issue with the whole “good”/ “evil” aspect of storytelling, which I think is becoming more of an extinct concept. For one thing, as I mentioned, there is the ying/yang concept. The light cannot exist without the dark. These “villains” have their job of bringing contrast to the universe. I say “job” quite distinctly because that’s what they’re here to do. In GUARDIANS, Pitch’s job is to bring Nightmares to children, with the effect of bringing more appreciation to the joys of life, such as the sweet dreams brought to children through Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. It’s a bit of a thankless job, but if the bad guy has been doing it for thousands of years, you’d think they’d be above petty concerns such as the insecurities of being loved by the outside world. The same goes for Mandrake, the villain in EPIC who is a bringer of death. What makes things difficult is that the so called Good Guys are not accepting of these characters, and show no appreciation for the work that the darker characters do, because the “bad” guy’s job is important.
The darker element is not something that is meant to be destroyed. It’s something that is meant to bring an appreciation for the better things in life. So it aggravates me when I watch movies like RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, where the GUARDIANS wind up banishing Pitch Black into another dimension where he can’t do any more harm. Well, to be quite honest, I feel sorry for Pitch. I understand how he feels because he is in essence neglected by the heroes of the film. Why was he not asked to join the Guardians? He’s important part as to why the heroes are who they are, and if only they had shown him some respect in return, maybe he wouldn’t be so inclined to ruin everything for everyone else. The same goes for Mandrake who is also deemed a villain because he’s also a guy nobody invites to parties or gets any kudos for his job. Heck, even Hades in HERCULES does not get much appreciation for his work, and never understands his place in the universe.
They shouldn’t be made evil because they do a job that nobody wants. Someday I’d like to see a film where the darker element actually gets a little respect for the job they do, even if it’s to bring contrast to the light of the hero. It’s a misunderstanding between worlds.
When it comes to villains in most animated features, it’s difficult sometimes because there is very little in the way of making them sincere characters. They’re just evil, and it’s usually out of boredom because the heroes never show any appreciation for them. So it’s not surprising they would lash out. It’s one thing when the hero finds some understanding in their life, but to proclaim that the contrasting force is bad when it was actually there to help them, the hero never thanks the villain for helping them, and the villain is usually banished or killed. Villains are much more interesting when we get a peek inside their pain.
What I mean by contrast is that a villain often times is a symbol for the hero when the hero is out of alignment with their inner being. It’s through this conflict and struggle that the hero sees their own reflection through the villain, who is secretly helping them find their true calling and the heroes connection to their highest self. So when the hero gets the message, but then has the villain killed or banished, there is no appreciation for what the villain has helped the hero achieve. Because even if the villain dies, it will come back as something else, in a different form. Because the villain is a reflection. If the darker element is not understood, it will come back in another form until the hero does get the message. Maybe one day there will be an animated hero who will actively show mercy and thank the villain for what they helped them accomplish. A great example of this is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, where the Witch of the Waste transforms Sophie into an old woman, but when the witch gets punished and aged severely, Sophie changes her outlook towards the witch and treats her with kindness. She feels sorry for her and helps her. There is a mutual understanding there.
I think it’s time for a change in the way we see villains portrayed in movies, especially with the hero much more actively understanding that the villain is not something to be merely destroyed, but is someone, or something to be understood. After all, a villain is finding their way just as much as the hero. With that in mind, maybe the hero could cut the villain a little slack in the end.