Picture by The Digital Artist – Pixabay
Films and series are just as great as the story they tell. No performance or cinematography can rescue poor storytelling based on a poor premise.
The depth of a film or a series is also underlined by the credibility of its protagonists and antagonists.
What’s more enjoyable than a film or series that convey a deeper message as well?
Sometimes, the truth isn’t delivered by the good guys, but by the villains.
Here are ten messages from fictional bad guys you probably need to hear.
This post contains SPOILERS.
Agent Smith in The Matrix franchise “Human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.”
If you’ve you been living under a rock for the past 20 years. Here is a short version of the plot of The Matrix. You need to understand it, to understand the message better.
End of the nineties, Neo, a programmer, spends his nights communicating with a certain Morpheus, about a mysterious entity called the Matrix. The Matrix is revealed to be a computer-generated program within humans have been living for over 200 years (so it’s not the nineties anymore). In the real world, human farms (power plants) supply the Machines with the electrical energy they need. Agent Smith, an AI program of the Matrix (later a virus, and then a human), is the antagonist.
After having sacrificed himself for the greater good, Morpheus is inevitably captured by Agent Smith. While torturing Morpheus, Smith tells him about the first version of The Matrix, who was too unbelievable for humans.
In fact, it was so perfect and so good to everyone, that humans rejected it.
Smith explains in this legendary monologue how humans have a propensity of sabotaging themselves and others, as well as taking pleasure in useless suffering.
Lesson learned: If you accept suffering as Status Quo, you’ll never be free.
Tyler Dordon in Fight Club “Working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
Tyler Dordon, played by Brad Pitt, is the antagonist of the main character, played by Edward Norton. An antagonist which embodies what his counterpart dreams of: The good-looking, the coolness, and above all, the freedom, he doesn’t dare to fight for.
Tyler points out how people live a life they hate and numb themselves with consumption instead of being courageous enough to change something and live their lives to the fullest.
It’s easier said than done. And of course, you can buy lots of great stuff and wonderful experiences with money.
However, consumption alone – in any shape – will never fulfill you.
Lesson learned: Stop consuming your life, start shaping and living it.
Frank Costello in The Departed “Nobody gives it to you, you have to take it.”
Frank Costello is one of the main characters of The Departed. He’s an Irish mafioso terrorizing Boston. The real Frank Costello was Italian-American and lived in NYC.
The film starts with a long monologue by Costello depicting his vision of Irish immigrants and more generally America.
When describing the black community, he says something very striking. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing the racist aspect of it. Just one particular point.
Paraphrased he says that people waste their lives waiting for permission from the outside. They wait for approval to become the person they want to be.
The truth is, that it’s never going to happen by itself. If you don’t take responsibility for your own life, chances are you’ll die with tones of regrets.
Lesson learned: Never ask for permission for doing something you truly want.
Robert Ford in Westworld – If you demand the truth, be ready to handle it.
Westworld is a series by HBO, launched in 2017.
It depicts an amusement park in a near future. It’s hosted by androids, “the hosts”, who allow humans, “the guests”, to have experiences they couldn’t have in the outside world. It means being allowed to do awful things like raping and killing the androids, without fearing any consequences.
Robert Ford founded the park and the audience discovers pretty fast that his moral sense is inexistent. At least considering the common understanding of it.
As the story is unfolded, the audience is horrified by what humans are capable of demonstrating. Later is revealed, that the park isn’t only designed to entertain but foremost to test people and collect data about them.
After looking for it, one of the main character, Bernhard, discovers a shocking truth about himself.
Lesson learned: The truth will set you free if you’re ready to accept whatever it is.
Joker in The Dark Knight– Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is nothing, if you can’t use them to your advantage.
The Dark Knight is based on the story of the DC comic hero Batman.
There have been countless adaptions of this comic on television as well as in cinema. Some were crap, and some of them were genius.
The Batman series by Christopher Nolan raised the bar. From a cinematographical as well as from a storytelling standpoint.
The most famous enemy of Batman, the Joker, enjoyed a depth of character never seen before The Dark Knight.
If you’ve ever been questioning yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, then watch this. It’s always a matter of perspective.
Lesson learned: Your greatest strength can turn its back on you if you don’t master your mind
John Doe in Se7en – Be in control of your emotions, before they take control over you.
Se7en was one of the most frightening thrillers of the nineties. Directed by David Fincher, it tells the story of two detectives, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), and David Mills (Brad Pitt), who are confronted with a very smart serial killer, John Doe (Kevin Spacey).
John Doe uses the seven deadly sins to choose his victims and stage his crimes.
Already in custody, John Doe leads the two detectives into the desert where they intercept a box. Inside the box is the head of the pregnant wife of detective Mills, who immediately loses his temper and fulfills the killer’s plan: Showing anger and completing his work, by killing him.
Lesson learned: Rarely lose your temper, especially in key moments.
Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds – Never be sloppy. Preparation is everything.
Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino was released in the theatres in 2009.
It tells the alternate history story of two plots to assassinate Nazis leaders, one planned by a young French Jewish cinema proprietor, and the other by a team of Jewish American soldiers.
Colonel Hans Landa (played sensationally by Christoph Walz), a meticulous and highly intelligent polyglot, is tracking them.
In this scene, he feels vindicated that the actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is a spy for the Allies after she’s done a fatal mistake.
Lesson learned: Never underestimate Details. They can be your path to glory or to your loss.
Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street – Be crystal clear about what you want.
The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorcese is based on the bestseller autobiographical book by John Belfort, a very successful stockbroker who spent some time in prison.
The character of Jon Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is ready to do everything to gets what he wants: Being filthy rich.
He starts at the bottom of Wall Street and becomes fast a star and a feared competition in the broker’s world.
In the following scene, he does a legendary motivational speech for his coworkers.
Lesson learned: Take action and know what is your “why”, and you’ll be unstoppable.
The Devil in The Devil’s Advocate – You have free will, nobody forces you to do anything.
The Devil’s Advocate is a film from the nineties as well, starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.
It tells the story of Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) who is a young and ambitious defense attorney, ready to do everything, to win his cases.
After he wins the case defending a child molester, he’s approached by an NYC law firm to assist a jury selection. The head of the firm, John Milton (Al Pacino) offers him a huge salary and a luxury apartment in the middle of Manhattan.
Slowly, Kevin proves his lack of moral as he dives deeper and deeper into his new job. He leaves his wife isolated until she commits suicide.
John Milton is revealed to be the devil and Kevin his son.
In the following scene, John tells Kevin that he’s never forced him to do anything. He demonstrates to him how he’s responsible for his own misery and the suicide of his wife.
Lesson learned: Take responsibility for your own actions.
Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones: “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die.”
The hugely successful HBO series was released in 2011 and is based on the books of Georges R. R. Martin.
Game of Thrones takes place in a fantasy feudal world where magic resurface as dragons are reborn.
Seven Kingdoms dispute the right on taking the thrones of Westeros – an imaginary England – after the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, has been killed by a member of his Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister, and replaced by Robert Baratheon.
Cersei Lannister, Robert Baratheon’s wife, and Jaime’s sister and lover, is one of the meanest characters (and there are a lot of mean characters in GoT) of Game of Thrones. She’s smart, ruthless and won’t stop at anything to ensure her interests.
In the following scene, she describes to Ned Stark in a nutshell, what makes her so strong and successful.
Lesson learned: If you decide to do something, go all-in. Nothing done half-heartedly will truly work.
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