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Do We Always Have to "Like" the Protagonist?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by JohnRice, Jan 16, 2020.

  1. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    I'm just tossing this out for comment. I see so many criticisms of movies because they don't have any "likeable" characters, or they don't "like" the main character. The problem is, any observation of the movie often stops dead with that one factor. The entire movie is often condemned without further thought.

    I honestly never knew that was a requirement, or that it was necessarily even desirable in a story. Wouldn't that pretty much condemn every gangster movie ever made?

    Personally, I often find despicable characters a lot more intriguing than ones who are easy to like.
     
  2. Bryan^H

    Bryan^H Lead Actor

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    No, not at all. I will use the movie "Monster" with Charlize Theron playing the role of Aileen Wuornos as the perfect example. The character study is riveting, and while she was a terrible person, the story, and performance made the film great. We can as an audience empathize with her because of her awful upbringing, but aside from that she is despicable person that wasted her chances becoming a good person.

    The second example is Robert Crumb in the documentary "Crumb".
    One of the most fascinating documentaries I have ever seen, yet R. Crumb is simply unlikeable. He comes off as arrogant, preachy (referring to people as mindless because they wear a shirt, or hat with a brand logo on them), and very, very twisted/weird. I would hate to live life through his eyes.
    A true "wet blanket" of a human soul.
    Great film.
     
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  3. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    Archie Bunker and J.R. Ewing were main characters on shows that ran more than a decade. Fast forward to the current century, you got your Don Drapers and your Walter Whites and a whole host of anti-heroes. And I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to be friends with Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin in real life when you consider the things they actually do.

    And then there's Maude…

    (and Ann Romano).

    I own them all on disc.
     
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  4. Worth

    Worth Producer

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    I don't think you have to like them, but I think think you have to understand what they're doing and why.
     
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  5. Tino

    Tino Executive Producer
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    it’s not.
     
  6. Thomas Newton

    Thomas Newton Screenwriter

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    Consider Rick and Morty. In one episode, Rick's mistakes with genetic engineering led to everyone in the world except for his immediate relatives being turned into "Cronenberg" monsters. Instead of fixing this, he left that dimension for a parallel dimension where his counterpart was about to die – so he could pretend to be him. (To make things creepier, the "real" Rick and Morty of that dimension are now buried in their own back yard!)

    Rick is also shown to be an alcoholic and a mean drunk, one who sometimes sets up neutrino bombs and other sophisticated death traps when drunk.

    Someone who causes this sort of chaos and destruction must be an antagonist, right? Yet Rick is a protagonist and often a sympathetic one.
     
  7. Reggie W

    Reggie W Producer

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    No.
     
  8. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I don’t think we have to, but I think we’re also living in an era where there have been some very popular culturally defining works with lead characters that are bad people but who were liked by the audience - so the general public at this time may be more used to seeing works where the lead character is a bad guy you can like than ones where it’s more clear that you’re not meant to like the lead.

    To use an easy example, there was a not insignificant portion of Breaking Bad’s audience that specifically felt Walter White was a protagonist to be liked and admired and who expressed hostility towards both critics/viewers that looked at Walter White in an unfavorable light, and also sent hate mail/trolled actors in the cast who played parts that opposed White’s actions. Although I don’t for a moment believe this was the intention of anyone working on the show, some viewers took the mere existence of the show as evidence that the showrunners were in approval of White’s actions. In short, because they empathized with the character, they wanted him to succeed.

    I think viewers that can miss the point in that way might be taken by surprise by watching something where they don’t like the main character, because they may be used to taking the main character as the automatic person to root for.
     
  9. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    Well, I sure do see a lot of reviews these days that criticize the movie because the characters are unlikable. Especially the main characters.
     
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  10. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    For me, the question isn’t so much are they unlikable but are they interesting?

    There are definitely moments when I’m in a mood for something more likable but I think that’s more on me than the filmmakers.
     
  11. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Lead Actor

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    Nope. The argument that a film cannot be enjoyed because the lead is unlikeable, strikes me as one dimensional.

    Josh's use of Walter White is a great example. I'm sure that critique has been leveled at Joker given its high profile at this time. I didn't particularly like Arthur Fleck, but I did have quite a bit of empathy for the character, given the hardships he faced. Now that doesn't justify his responses, but it makes him a compelling character.

    Josh mentioned interesting, and I would add to that characteristics such as charismatic, forceful, nuanced, tragic, and funny as a few other ways in which a character can hold one's interest. Of course, star power is one of the leading attractions for viewers, irrespective of the character's traits.

    One of my all time favorite antihero roles is 1963's Hud starring Paul Newman. A very self-centered antihero who only cares about himself and his needs. Completely unsympathetic, and unlikeable; but the character commands the screen because of Newman't acting and screen charisma.

    - Walter.
     
  12. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    One of my favorite moments in the sorely underrated “Falling Down” is Michael Douglas saying in dismay... “I’m the bad guy? I did everything they told me to.”
     
  13. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Lead Actor

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    Well... up to a certain point. :)

    I think that is a fine film and an interesting portrayal by Michael Douglas. A character we can sympathize with to some degree. Particularly his sense of displacement in a world that feels like it has left him behind. A good example of a character whose actions we can't justify, but the viewer can understand some of the motivations.

    I thought the golf course segment felt like a bad joke in some ways (like the director was venting about golfing) but Douglas' performance is the real attraction for me in this film.

    - Walter.
     
  14. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    It was just a side thought. How often (most of the time) the "bad guy" thinks he's the good guy.
     
  15. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Lead Actor

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    A quick google search turned this up...

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychology-writers/201208/why-bad-guys-think-theyre-good-guys

    From the article... "In reality, most people involved in evil behavior don’t see that behavior as evil."

    Probably can find articles online that argue just the opposite, but that was the first one that popped up in the list. :)

    - Walter.
     
  16. sleroi

    sleroi Second Unit

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    I think it all depends on the film.

    Two different examples:

    Goodfellas. Henry Hill is a mobster, murderer, drug dealer and user, and womanizer. Not a nice guy at all. But the movie is great, as it starts with showing how Henry is seduced into the lifestyle and Karen is seduced by Henry. And then we watch everything erode. It is witty, scary and engrossing. And rather than glamorizing the mafia it slowly and very effectively shows the truth about that lifestyle.

    Peter Jacksons King Kong. Jack Black is horribly unlikeable in that film, and his portrayal is so annoying and one dimensional I was irritated every time he was on screen. There are many reasons why I dislike this film, but Jack Black is probably the main one.

    Even though Henry Hill was not a "likeable" guy, Liotta's portrayal was captivating. Black's Carl Denham was not a likeable guy, was not captivating, and no great lesson was learned because of him.
     
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  17. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    BUT, you specifically stated that Black's portrayal of him, his acting, was "annoying and one dimensional". Not a valid comparison to a well acted character.
     
  18. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    How about a movie like Bad Lieutenant. A completely repugnant main character. Not a single decent thing about the guy. Is it automatically an awful movie?
     
  19. bujaki

    bujaki Producer

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    Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face, Double Indemnity, etc. She creates despicable characters very well, and sometimes you root for her (Baby Face).
    I can't help but admire that survivor with a killer instinct: Scarlett O'Hara.
     
  20. Tino

    Tino Executive Producer
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    Yikes. I disagree with everything in this paragraph. Imo Jackson’s King Kong is every bit as good as the ‘33 version. And in many ways even better.
     
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