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The Anti-Hero: The Films That Show Our Love For The (Seemingly) Unloveable

by T.J. Royal
The Anti-Hero: The Films That Show Our Love For The (Seemingly) Unloveable by T.J. Royal
So, (as of today, Jan. 22, 2011) I’ve been paying attention to the steady progress the latest version of True Grit has been making on the box office charts. This is a Coen Brothers movie (gasp!) that is poised to cross the $150 million gross tally soon, and possibly near $200 million before it’s out of theaters. The brothers’ last movie, 2007’s No Country For Old Men, grossed more than $70 million, and was their most successful theatrical release at that time. So, that got me thinking about why the latest True Grit seems to be so successful despite ALL the bad buzz and groans of repeat-ism that seemed to have been heaped its way before its… Read more

So, (as of today, Jan. 22, 2011) I’ve been paying attention to the steady progress the latest version of True Grit has been making on the box office charts. This is a Coen Brothers movie (gasp!) that is poised to cross the $150 million gross tally soon, and possibly near $200 million before it’s out of theaters. The brothers’ last movie, 2007’s No Country For Old Men, grossed more than $70 million, and was their most successful theatrical release at that time.

So, that got me thinking about why the latest True Grit seems to be so successful despite ALL the bad buzz and groans of repeat-ism that seemed to have been heaped its way before its release. And it’s very simple: We as movie-goers, from general audiences to academics, really, really like our anti-heroes.

This absolutely runs the gamut of the film-viewing spectrum: from mass movie franchises like the X-Men trilogy and Disney flicks like Up or Beauty and The Beast, to critically acclaimed flicks like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, A Clockwork Orange and Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, and current “art-house” fare like Black Swan and Winter’s Bone. All of these movies, and soooo many more, have us find a form of identification with someone who is less than “desirable” or admirable, or who has less than savory goals and intentions in mind, or who also just doesn’t seem to fit the typical description of a “hero.” Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Ree from Winter’s Bone, Johnny Barrett in Shock Corridor, and DEFINITELY Alexander de Large….

I’m going to add onto this list the critically and commercially successful movies that feature main characters who have less than desirable characteristics: People mired in poverty and institutional ignorance, the old, the (mentally or physically) infirm, the (innerly and outwardly) ugly, the nerdy, the gawky, the alcoholic, the somber, the idiotic, the murderous, the conniving…..et al. Cinema is rich with these figures, and whether we love ‘em (Like The Tramp or any Buster Keaton character), lack to fully comprehend them (like Travis Bickle), feel sorry for them for being so ignorant (Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre anyone!? Or the dog from White Dog?) or turn out to despise them for their vehemence (Alex de Large….), we can’t seem to turn away from ’em or keep ’em out of our imagination.

What I mostly have in mind is, as a comparison, I wouldn’t include L’Avventura on this list. That’s because the person who we come to mostly identify with in the movie, Monica Vitti’s character, isn’t inherently bad or ill-intended. She’s certainly wealthy, even though she gets into a rather icky moral situation. But we look at a character like Ree from Winter’s Bone (full disclosure, I haven’t watched this one yet), she’s born into poverty in the Ozark Mountains, and she’s trying to help keep her dad from going to jail. Ree would much more fit the bill of an anti-hero than Monica Vitti’s character.

Please feel free to suggest more. There are gonna be PLENTY of movies on this list that I myself haven’t seen, and even though I’ll know about their storyline and characters, I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. And it could be said that most EVERY movie has a main character with an undesirable trait or 50, and it’s gonna be easy for me to overlook a movie or 1,000, ‘cause I can’t think of ’em all at once.

A perfect example of this is me having all the way down at No. 119 Bonnie and Clyde, perhaps the PENULTIMATE ANTI-HERO movie. And right below it I have Lilith (also starring Warren Beatty), which is another perfect example of an anti-hero, in this case two characters, Beatty’s character who oversteps his “professional” boundaries, and Jean Seberg’s mental ward patient, an unstable coquette who I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by.

I also put Freaks waaaaaaaayyyy down at No. 122. Silly me.

So anyway, heeeerrrrreee goes….

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