The Anti-Hero's Journey

I make no secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of stories that unabashedly embrace the Hero's Journey. Give me a fresh-faced, idealistic hero, an evil villain, unlikely, colorful allies, insurmountable odds, and an exploding Death Star at the climax and we're good. Growing up, my favorite movies were Star Wars, True Grit, and The Cowboys, my favorite novels books such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Richard Adams' Watership Down, and, yes, Walter Farley's The Black Stallion (although I would have much preferred versions of each with strong female leads).

Although I love a good villain, (from Vader to Hannibal Lecture to the vile Baron Harkonnen of the Dune series), I prefer the villain to stay in his/her place and be soundly defeated. I never really got into the anti-hero's story, maybe because I was such a rule-following, Sunday-school attending good girl and it made me too uncomfortable to root for a bad person, or maybe it's a lack of sophistication on my part. But I still strongly dislike unethical TV characters (Holly Hunter's brilliantly acted Grace Anadarko is a very tough sell for me.)

Except that last night, my husband and I watched the DVD Notes on a Scandal (based on the Zoe Heller story), and I can't stop thinking about that movie. In it, Dame Judi Dench plays a evilly-understated stalker, one so nastily-insightful and relatably-lonely that she's absolutely fascinating. When she accidentally discovers the illicit -- and rightfully illegal -- sexual affair the beautiful new teacher (Cate Blanchett is wonderful in this part) is having with a 15-year-old male student, Dench's character doesn't report it. Instead, she uses the knowledge to manipulate and emotionally blackmail the object of her obsession.

So who can a viewer root for in such a situation, where neither the stalker nor her victim stands on moral ground? Maybe that's why the movie, nominated for a slew of acting awards, didn't make a huge commercial splash. It's uncomfortable to watch, deeply-so at times. But I enjoyed it (as I also enjoy last years's No Country for Old Men, the story of an opportunistic thief and a cold-blooded killer). Though both movies were hard to swallow, they had an appealing depth.

So what are your favorite books or movies featuring the anti-hero's journey?


Joni Rodgers said…
Go, Dame Judy. She must have gotten a serious thrill up her spine when she saw that brilliant script.

Another really great anti-hero's journey movie: The Lookout. Terrific twisty-turny script. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a brain-damaged janitor who gets sucked into a bank robbery.
Thanks for the recommendation. I'm off to add it to my Netflix list!
Suzan Harden said…
I'd have to recommend Jeremy Irons' Dead Ringers. Despite the immorality of the brothers, you still feel sorry for them. Just don't watch it right before you go to bed.
Lark said…
I LOVE Grace!!! Maybe that says a little too much about me.

Some of my favorite characters are anti-heroes. One of my current fav actors, Jason Statham, always plays an anti-hero--Crank, Snatch, The Bank Job. Okay, I also like the extreme action. The new James Bond. And who doesn't adore Captain Jack Sparrow?

Then there's my addiction, the ultra-dark Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. All the "heroes" are vampire warriors, violent killers with serious baggage.

I think what appeals to me in all these characters is how they fight for their humanity and have a code of ethics (their own, perhaps) in spite of being terribly damaged.

I didn't care for "No Country for Old Men" because there didn't seem to be a plot and nobody grew from the beginning to the end. Maybe I just didn't get it. Wouldn't be the first time.
Thanks for the great recommendations.

And Grace is slowly growing on me. I grew up with this 60's mindset that all TV cops should be honest, forthright, and clean-cut, like the guys (who were admitted sooo boring) from Adam 12. Drunk, disorderly, and adulterous is a tough combo, though Hunter sweats the role from her pores.

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