I wrote a couple of articles when Rorie advertised those new freelance positions a few months ago, and since we now have some closure on the whole process (unfortunately in less than ideal circumstances) I figured I'd post them up here.
The first is a look at delusional anti-heroes (specifically Drive, so there are some spoilers), and the second is about Walter White (Breaking Bad) and how a TV series allows for substantial character development (again, spoilers ahoy).
Heroic protagonists have dominated cinema since its inception. Strong, smart and charismatic characters; the archetypal hero excels beyond the virtues of an everyman, encompassing all that is good and right with the world and relinquishing all evil. Comic books, movies and TV shows all provide the perfect platform for our favourite heroes to excel, and they have done so for many decades. But if there’s one thing we love more than a good hero it’s a great antagonist. Delving into the mind of a villain is a dangerous affair; their evil and twisted motives are an oftentimes fascinating aspect of broken and beaten characters or psychopathic madmen – a perfect antithesis to the heroic lead. Batman might be the hero we aspire to be, but The Joker is the character who captivates the audience with tantalizing precision. And that’s why the anti-hero has become a firm favourite of the silver screen; a concept that marries together both the protagonist and antagonist, creating a character who shares two sides of the same coin. From Dirty Harry and Mad Max to Leon and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, the anti-hero has become a staple of cinema.
Within these anti-heroes, however, is one facet of their characterisation that bares discussion: the presence of delusion. This pathological false belief could be the catalyst that propels these vigilantes forward, convincing them that extreme acts of violence are morally acceptable in the present circumstances. It’s certainly an enthralling premise, knowing that the protagonist could cause more problems than he solves; their unpredictable behaviour treading a very thin line between what we perceive to be good and evil. Many recent films have dealt with this theme – Observe and Report, Watchmen and Kick-Ass being chief among them. This year’s James Gunn directed Super, is one such example, thrusting its delusional hero into a suitably manic macrocosm.
Its protagonist, Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) uses his superhero vigilantism to try and win back his wife. She has been whisked away by an evil drug dealer and Frank struggles to deal with this, despite his wife’s sordid past of unfortunate drug use. He’s depressed, lonely and his psyche is teetering on the edge, all conveyed in a mesmerising scene depicting a literal “touched by the hand of God” moment; this holy being placing its hand on Frank’s brain, allowing him to perceive this as a sign and justification for his future actions. He dons a costume and vows to fight crime, utilizing a wrench as his brutal weapon of choice. It’s here that his delusion is thrust into the limelight as he dispatches criminals with ruthless abandon, busting their heads open with his wrench and even going so far as to drop a cylinder block onto someone’s skull - complete with maniacal glee. These criminals are drug dealers, child molesters and thieves, but it’s when Frank struggles to differentiate between these petty criminals and someone cutting in-line at the cinema that we see the true state of his mind. Super’s comedic tone generates humour from these moments of gratuitous violence, but it’s also completely unnerving at the same time.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive takes an altogether different tone, but the delusions of its protagonist remain. He is a nameless getaway driver for hire; calm, cool and singularly precise. Ryan Gosling plays the role to perfection, his surprisingly limited dialogue paving the way for subtle facial expressions to convey his emotions. His relationship with his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan) is suitably awkward yet beautiful as a result; the distinct lack of dialogue painting the Driver as a rather odd character with a mysterious and possibly troubled past – Clint Eastwood’s infamous Man With No Name offering an appropriate comparison. His demeanour is calm and sincere, but this eerie silence expertly builds to a cacophony of explosive violence that shatters the serenity; the Driver morphing into a ruthless killer when his hand is forced. We’ve known him as one to hide in the shadows, avoiding police detection as a getaway driver and hiding behind the mask of a movie star as a stuntman, but when it’s required he can do what must be done, even if his actions hurt those he’s trying to protect.
One such scene disseminates this point as one fateful elevator ride portrays the two sides of the Driver’s psyche. It doesn’t take long for him to realise his would-be assailant is in the elevator with both he and Irene. He knows what’s about to happen and takes this final opportunity to steal away a first kiss with Irene; a delicate moment that provides the calm before the storm as the violence bursts onto the screen in barbaric fashion. The Driver relentlessly pounds his assailant’s skull into the ground, rage taking over as he struggles to hold back. In that moment he knows his relationship with Irene has come to a disturbing end, but in his mind he is the hero: the knight in shining armour she so desperately needs. He hides behind the mask of a movie star, the heroic protagonist, but his delusions paint him as that very character. All of his kills up to that point have been in self-defence, but once he takes matters into his own hands and becomes the instigator he puts on that mask, transforming himself into another character. It’s not a disguise or a form of protection; it’s his way of becoming the hero of the piece, even as he removes himself further and further from the realms of reality.
And for that he becomes a fascinating character. One with morally ambiguous motives, but who we can still feel empathy for as the psychopathic romantic. His delusions of being the hero are what spur him on, but it’s also what pushes Irene away.
Of course, this is all open to interpretation, so what are your thoughts on Drive, and even Super and other similar movies? Who are your favourite anti-heroes, particularly those with delusional tendencies? And what do you think about psychotic protagonists? Sound off in the comments below.
Breaking down Walter White
Hollywood has the big bucks; the ability to pull in accomplished directors, the biggest stars of the silver screen and the unfounded stacks of box office money when all is said and done – provided they’re lucky enough. Hollywood is the pinnacle of creative resources, its architects doing everything they can to produce and capture that resplendent movie magic we all flock to our local cinemas to see. However, it’s the smaller world of TV that carries one distinct and beneficial advantage over the might and money of film: the power of time. A simple chronological tool that allows showrunners and studios the ability to craft a world, construct a story and, most importantly, develop a slew of layered and memorable characters. It’s a tool that will eventually stretch into years, each year featuring a season of ever evolving characters we learn to love, loathe and savour as we’re transfixed by their journey from one season to the next.
Ironically enough, time is not on the side of one Walter White. A character that has captivated us over the past few years in AMC’s consistently phenomenal Breaking Bad.
Walter is a small-time chemistry teacher - part-time car wash attendee - with a loving family and a monotonous lifestyle. He’s easy to relate to, living a simple life with mundane, every-day issues and a pair of abnormally large eyebrows giving him grief. We’ve all lived his life or have some knowledge of the trials and tribulations of a suburban household; and that point remains true when Walter contracts terminal lung cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is a terrible problem that affects nearly all of us, directly or otherwise, so when Walter is burdened with the disease we can still relate to his character, feeling compassion for both himself and his devastated family. Breaking Bad’s cancer is not just a plot device to fuel the series or generate easy sympathy in its audience; it becomes a character in itself – the villain of the piece, and the catalyst for what’s to come. We can relate, emotionally, to Walter’s predicament, but also emphasize with him when he delves into the seedy world of drug dealing to help support his family before he dies.
The process of cooking meth to leave behind a small fortune is a ridiculous concept with massive ramifications, but we buy into Walter’s train of thought, as a character, even if we don’t quite believe in it ourselves. He’s a chemistry whizz so he has the means and knowledge to embark on this fruitful plan, and his relationship with former-student-turned-meth-dealer, Jessie Pinkman, provides him with the perfect platform to assert his dominance on the whole operation. Walter might not know the first thing about the world of drug dealing but that doesn’t hinder his ability to be the boss of Jessie. We expect this of him, as an authoritative teacher figure, but this masculine stance also helps hide a brittle, dying man who’s scared of the future more than anything else. Show creator and writer, Vince Gilligan, does a fantastic job of humanizing Walter, layering his lead with believable flaws, frailties, strengths and actions. Walter might be smart but the criminal underworld is not a climate he is accustomed to, and he regularly makes misguided decisions with dire consequences. Its human nature and we support him because of it, even when he does something we struggle to agree with.
Throughout that first season Walter battles with his inner demons as he comes to terms with killing another human being, the stress of keeping his secret from his family and the strain of his complicated and frustrating relationship with Jessie. As the season progresses, the character of Walter evolves along with his decisions and these circumstances. He has moments of utter chaos as he confronts a dangerous drug dealer, fleeting instances of compassion as he fights for Jessie and a plethora of emotions as he deals with his disease and the way his family perceives his change in disposition. He is intense, flawed and fascinating to watch, consistently developing over time as the medium allows. We bear witness to the evolution of a singular man thrust deeper and deeper into a terrible situation. It’s called Breaking Bad for a reason, each season getting continuously worse for Walter, mostly through fault of his own.
And now it has all come to a head in season four as Walter faces his toughest period yet. Here is a man on dying legs, facing blitzkrieg from all angles, manipulated by a frightening enemy with nary a weakness in sight; the exact factor lamentably thrust into the limelight for Walter. Throughout the season his despair has emerged for all to see. He’s paranoid, delusional and on a dangerous, downward spiral; malignant forces are converging on him and he’s struggling to find a way out. The episode “Crawl Space” was a culmination of Walter’s formidable journey; it’s final scene a magnificent piece of television.
Breaking Bad has always been a sensational show because of a multitude of vital elements, and they’re all showcased in this scene; from the excellent cinematography, through to the ominously intense music, accomplished writing and unbelievable acting from Bryan Cranston. Each element converges to make this scene sensational. But it’s the actions of its lead character that grips us the most. We know Walter White, his development and characterisation over four years of this series has captivated a devout following. So when he’s screaming at the top of his lungs, divulging into maniacal laughter like we’ve never seen before, we feel each and every decibel, bead of sweat and disturbing glare like a shot to the heart. It’s a defining moment in a phenomenal series; its character’s fate at the forefront of its impassioned drama. Breaking Bad does a lot right, but it’s Walter White who is perhaps it’s greatest strength. All thanks to the advantage of time.