Whenever I think hard about the personification of evil, how it exists in the real world and how it’s fictionalized in cinema, I keep wondering what makes a certain villain so unbeatable and unredeemable in what he plans and does. In fanciful stories, the most wicked villain of course is some kind of self-styled dictator, like Lord Voldemort, Sauron, Emperor Palpatine, and the White Witch. They are all cruel, sadistic, hateful, narcissistic, and desiring the world to be in their clutches forever, because they expect to live forever.
In contrast, when I look at fiction that is more grounded in reality, the villains that pop out are mere mortals, yet they are still capable of cruel deeds through their intelligence and their brutality, such as the Joker, masked slasher murderers, and the killers Paul and Peter from Funny Games. In their crusades of evil, they just intend to make people suffer and die, whether as a fanatical agenda out of self-righteousness or a lustful taste for violence and mayhem as any psychopath or sociopath is inclined to feel. They’re not interested in ruling the world and enslaving the people, they don’t even seem to care too much about living forever because they know they’re not the only psychos in the world and will just hand the torch to the next psycho killer.
In these contrasts, there are evil villains on one side who have specific reasons: they are in love with power, they want to rule the world, persecute any people they don’t like, and they want to live forever. On the other side, they have a more vague reason: they just want to make humans suffer for no specific reason other than they like it. So the first type of evil is applied to a tyrannical power grabber that can be paralleled with the dictators that have lived before and still live today. The second type is applied to simple mortals that don’t strive for a specific role in society, they just have serious personality disorders and want to unleash all their rage on society without reason or consideration about right and wrong. I think the first type definitely has something to fear, since Voldemort is afraid of losing his power or dying, so he intends to kill anyone on the spot who could take both away from him. However, the second type seems to have less to care about or be afraid of, since the Joker just wants to relish in pain and death, without considering the consequences or dreading any confrontation with Batman because he loves toying with the Dark Knight more than killing him on the spot, even when he has the Bat at his mercy.
So in comparing these differences for a character who is beyond redemption or moral reasoning, which type stands out as having the most frightening and unredeemable kind of evil?
This calls for the old Alighnment Chart meme as you’re basically comparing lawful evil to choatic evil.
The main difference seems to predictability. If a lawful evil villain has you in his/her sights (assuming the hero is not in the vicinity), you pretty much know you’re fucked. With a chaotic villain the chance element comes more into play. But, while you may have a chance of negotiating with the lawful villain, you never know what’s going to set the chaotic one off.
Most frigthening: Neutral evil. The ‘force of nature’ kind of evil. Darth Vader will kill you for a rhyme and reason. Joker is inconsistently destructive. The alien will just kill, and kill, and kill, and kill because that’s what it frick’in does.
Most irredeemable: Lawful evil. The person who has the mental capability of being good, and makes the choice to be evil, is much more detestable than the monster just abiding by its nature, or the insane person whose brain does not possess sympathy circuits.
Well, let me see if I understand the two categories. The first seems to be villains that are power hungry. They have the capacity for morality, but their lust for power trumps it. The second seems to be crazy villains—villains that are amoral and, well, crazy.
I think both are scary, and to choose one over the other would be splitting hairs, but that’s a lame answer, so let me try something else. I think the power-hungry villains are redeemable since they have the capacity to understand morality, whereas the crazy villains are less redeemable, insofar as they are truly amoral. At the same time, this makes the latter a little more sympathetic—i.e., one can pity them a bit more—or maybe they’re deserving of some pity as they can’t help being the way they are. Similarly, we might feel less pity for the power-hungry villains, since they are capable to behaving morally, but they do not because of their lust for power. I don’t know if that answer is much better, but there you go.
Woudn’t the netural evil by the most irredeemable? The xenomorph is basically amoral, so I don’t think it has a capacity to be redeemed.
The xenomorph is basically amoral, so I don’t think it has a capacity to be redeemed.
But since it is amoral at the basic level, you can’t expect any good from it – that’s its nature. So it doesn’t have free will or the ability to be good. So that’s a lot less detestable than someone with the power to be good who chooses not to.
So I guess it depends on what we mean by “irredeemable.”
And it’s only monday and I’ve already fulfilled my quota of moral relativity arguments for the week! :D
So that’s a lot less detestable than someone with the power to be good who chooses not to.
Right. I was thinking of “irredeemable” in a more literal way—i.e., not having the capacity to reform or become morally good.
“WHO’S THE PUREST EVIL TYPE IN FICTION?”
beats even God…
I was going with Iago too, but I don’t think Iago is as evil as Othello’s actions themselves. Iago was like Charles Mansion. He set it in motion, but….
Comic Sans is the worst “type”.
The Iago vs Othello question is a really complicated ethical question, actually. Othello performed the actual act, but Iago intended that act to happen. But with Iago it was premeditated, and with Othello it was a crime of passion. I suppose I would say they’re equally morally responsible, but Othello is perhaps more redeemable.
This is semantic, I suppose. The alien kills humans the way whales kill fish. In law there’s a concept of ‘mens rea’, for somebody to be culpable for an act they have to be mentally capable of understanding the act. If the alien were to suddenly wake up tomorrow with a conscience and an intelligent mind, it’d be instantly forgiven for its evil acts because it did not possess ‘mens rea’, whereas Darth Vader has a much longer path to redemption because he made the conscious decision to turn to evil.