ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS: 4 Ways to Determine The Villain
Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of our parenting series. For similar stories, click here.
Ascertainment question: Who is the villain?
In order to create a great hero, you need a great villain for him or her to combat. That villain can come in one of four forms based on the chosen basic plot.
Man against man.
Man against nature.
Man against himself.
Man against the supernatural or the sub-natural.
This era of big franchise superhero movies is, by necessity, an era of super villains. These are man against man movies and most often the villain is someone seeking world dominance through the use of some horrible weaponry. It’s now fashionable to have the villain be leader of an organization and not the leader of a nation whose citizens might buy fewer tickets when their nation is presented as evil.
Most movies, such as ROCKY, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, AVENGERS ENDGAME, RUNAWAY BRIDE, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE are man against man, even if it is a battle of the sexes, where the other person is the villain. JAWS, SOUL SURFER, THE 33, APPOLO 11, and THE PERFECT STORM are man against nature, where nature is the villain. CAST AWAY, HAMLET, most of THE IRON MAN movies, UNBROKEN, and OVERCOMER are man against himself. THE EXORCIST, A QUIET PLACE, THE CONJURING series, and DR. STRANGE are man against the supernatural or sub-natural, where the evil other is the villain.
Once you’ve identified the villain, you should list his character traits in the same manner that you did with the hero. You will want to list physical characteristics, background, psychological characteristics, and religious characteristics. Consider what motivates the villain.
Since the demise of the motion picture and television codes, there have been many media products portraying those motivated by Christianity as prudes, nerds, kooks, and psychopaths. One of the first was MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), which portrayed a street preacher as a sleazy homosexual who leads the hero into homosexual prostitution. In 2014, Tom Cruise starred as a vulgar rock star in ROCK OF AGES. The villains were an ultra-hypocritical pastor and his wife. DEADPOOL 2 (2018) featured a Christian pedophile villain as head of a horrible orphanage.
In some major movies like AVATAR, capitalists are presented as villains. When considering such a movie, it’s important to access whether the message is that greed is portrayed as evil or capitalism itself. The villain can be created to make Christianity, capitalism or even just being an American look evil. AVATAR, for example, goes beyond simply making the villains look greedy and casts a dark shadow on capitalism itself. It presents the pursuit of profit as sinister even while the movie itself was made on the pursuit of profit. Rest assured that James Cameron, who made the movie, doesn’t live in harmony with nature in a tree in the woods.
Discernment question: What kind of a message does the character of the villain communicate?
As Christians, we need to analyze the character of the villain to determine whether the villain is being used to attack a religious, biblical worldview. Movieguide® is a very valuable resource in this regard. The movie’s worldview is discussed in every review and spelled out in the content section of the review.
Many movies have both moral and immoral elements. Even villains can have a good side. Doctor Octavius in SPIDER-MAN 2 became the very model of evil when some military technology went haywire and controlled his mind, but he changes back to his benevolent self at the end. In I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, a horribly brutal father repents and is transformed by the love of Jesus. His behavior goes from horrible to exemplary.
Filmmakers have messages they wish to convey. Cecil B. DeMille sought to covey God’s goodness and power over tyranny in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Frank Capra sought to convey the value of integrity over political corruption in MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Walt Disney opposed the evils of pride and jealousy in SNOW WHITE. INHERIT THE WIND opposed people who believe in the Bible as being stupid and dogmatic. In each case, the movie’s villain was vital to the presentation of the desired message. In each case, the villain makes the hero, his character and his message look more noble.
Ascertainment is seeing clearly what the filmmaker is trying to convey and how they are doing it. Discernment is seeing how the filmmaker’s main message, whether explicit or implicit, compares to Scripture. When choosing what to watch, and what to invest your money in, consider the message the filmmaker wishes to feed you and your children. One of the clearest clues is what the filmmaker presents through the villain.
Editor’s Note: These articles are adapted from Dr. Ted Baehr’s THE CULTURE WISE FAMILY book. You can buy a copy from www.movieguide.org or o