Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Dark Knight... tribute to anti heroes

I watched Dev D after I had already read rave reviews on one hand, and heard cribbing friends (mostly male) chastising the movie as “unconventionally bad”, “exploring female sexuality aggressively” and “a complete waste” on the other. While my brother continuously complained, I found it refreshingly different even if it didn’t live up to all the hype and expectations. But one thing that it did do was strengthen my obsession with anti heroes- Abhay Deol, as the protagonist who plays the modern day Devdas is a typical loser that your parents do not want you to grow up to be. And that is precisely what makes his character so damn real and attractive: he is weak, he is confused, he is vulnerable, he is flawed and “conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities”, i.e. he is like US!! While literature and art have exploited the anti hero concept over the ages through glamorous characters like Mephistopheles (Faust), Yossarian (Catch 22), Hamlet, Macbeth, Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Satan/Lucifer (Paradise Lost), Randle McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest), Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair), Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), , Tyler Durden (Fight Club), Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein), Gollum (TLOTR), to name a few, my personal favourites are:

Shylock: From the Shakespearean villain in the romantic comedy, “The Merchant of Venice”, Shylock has emerged as the tragic anti hero, an angry inconvenient man destroyed by an unjust quibble in the law, a good man undone by a tragic flaw, his inability to control his rage against an overwhelmingly powerful society that will never recognize his generosity and never accept him. His famous speech “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?...” screams of his insistence on his basic right to self respect even as a Jew.

Heathcliff: I did not like Wuthering Heights (dad, if your are reading, Classics AINT the best thing that happened to literature), but the only thing that kept me going till the end of the novel was the character of Heathcliff- the typical romantic Byronic hero whose all consuming passions are enough to destroy himself and the world around him. Passionate, dark, brooding and vindictive, he crosses the fine line between love and obsession, as he grows into a bitter haunted man devoting his life to vengeance.

Dorian Gray: Dorian Gray, the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s only published novel which churned out a lot of controversy, is an extremely handsome, slightly naïve, young man who becomes enthralled by his own beauty and obsessed with the idea that beauty is the only thing in life worth pursuing. Consumed by a new hedonism, he sells his soul plunging himself into a series of debauched acts. His portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin being displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging, while his external appearance remains as fresh and beautiful as ever.

Lester Burnham: The 42-year old advertising executive in the critically acclaimed movie “American Beauty” depicts everything that’s wrong with America- he is a self proclaimed loser in a dead end job with bosses he doesn’t respect and a dysfunctional family that doesn’t respect him. However, he suddenly finds something to live for as he gropes his way through midlife crisis and becomes infatuated with his teenaged daughter’s friend. As he becomes obsessed with his desire “to look good naked”, his life around him falls apart. My personal favourite moment in the film: When Angela asks him, “how are you?”, he smirks, and replies with a tinge of surprise, “God, it's been a long time since anybody asked me that… I am great… I am great”- and he certainly wasn’t!

Travis Bickle: Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a young, lonely and depressed cab driver gone vigilante in the movie “Taxi Driver” is a great example of how the darkness can seep in. First off, you tend to sympathize with him, but his motives remain unknown throughout the film which makes it hard to stay with his actions, especially as it becomes clear that he’s not completely all there, and then the assassination attempt of a political candidate seems straight out evil until he saves a child prostitute, but his head is so messed up you don’t know why he’s doing anything any more, making even heroic actions seem, well, really creepy.

And finally, the best of all…

Scarlet O Hara: The protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone with the Wind” is my favourite female fictional character, slightly ahead of Elizabeth Bennett of “Pride and Prejudice”. Not conventionally beautiful, she is wickedly attractive, selfish, shrewd and vain. She repeatedly challenges 19th century society’s gender roles and is the least stereotypically feminine of women and also the most disliked character of the novel. Scarlett's ongoing internal conflict between her feelings for the Southern gentleman Ashley and her attraction to the sardonic, opportunistic Rhett Butler—who becomes her third husband—embodies the general position of The South in the Civil War era.

Windy and pretentious, the antiheroes leave an indelible mark on us. The overweening pride and the arrogance mark their culmination. We see him not as the knight in the shining armour but as a darker counterpart of the hero, or the dark knight.


Aashay said...

Haven't heard of any of 'em other than shylock and scarlet o'hara...and Scarlet was hardly a villain no? Poor girl is just forced to fend for herself....


Confessions of an unrepentant Aquarian said...

Just to add one of my favourite anti-heros to your list, it'd have to be Jonathan Rhys Meyers' character 'Chris Wilton' in 'Match Point'. The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" someone with no moral scruples whatsoever and doing whatever it took to be where he wanted.

Interesting post.