Film Factor

Peter Fedyk, Columnist

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“A movie is only as good as its villain” is a common phrase that circulates through most filmgoers. This holds true for me since my favorite characters from all fictional sources usually oppose the side of good. Films that lack a villain of conviction also lack emotional connection between the plot and its audience. A good villain can be sympathetic, disturbing, and even relatable. Sometimes a blurred line between outright wretchedness and misunderstood values creates an enticing dilemma for the viewer.
Few film antagonists embody the skin crawling disgust that Hannibal Lecter is practically made of. Every calm word spoken and unbreaking stare into camera leaves the audience with a sense of nonconsensual violation. Anything from his slow shot-reverse shot scenes to a climax can only be described as chilling. The most deliberate of his moral perpetrations is his odd hunger for human flesh. Despite the character’s cannibalism, Anthony Hopkins did not let this detail define the character. Lecter’s annoying intelligence, his surging stare, and his unrelenting calm create the character; not his diet. Many, lesser characters fall to this trope. This was clear in 2016’s Suicide Squad; the villain, Enchantress, was visually stunning and drew the audience in. Unfortunately, the audience was left with a hollow shell of a villain that posed the threat of boredom to the fans packed tightly in the theater.
The extent of a villain’s control over the scene can also be reliant upon the hero’s vulnerability. Some protagonists are inexplicably invulnerable to the villain’s wrath, if said wrath even exists. Plenty of modern cinema are plagued by invincible heroes that never display any form of weakness in the wake of their opposition. In The Silence of the Lambs, enthusiastic FBI trainee Clarice Starling has many vulnerabilities in her psyche, often poked at by the cannibalistic psychologist. Her tragedies of past becomes exploits exercised by Lecter to emotionally disrupt the protagonist and edge out control of each encounter they have in each scene. The catch to these encounters is that Lecter is already captured. He remains locked behind bars but manages to corner Clarice through conversation. This same dynamic is used in David Fincher’s Se7en, another film of the past that utilizes an antagonist correctly.
Sadly, those who passionately oppose the protagonist and impress the audience in stories have all but fallen off the map. This lack of profound adversaries has become pandemic, affecting even movies as successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Too many insanely likeable villains have failed to beat the hero for viewers to not question this slow dissipation of memorable evildoers. One can hope future film makers will look back to those such as Hannibal Lecter to garner inspiration for a new generation of signature bad guys for the future to look back on in awe: a villain to challenge the crown of Hannibal Lecter.