Thursday, July 12, 2012

Top 10 Least Favorite Movie CHARACTERS: Part II

The Best of the Worst


      Part I of my "Top 10 Least Favorite Movie CHARACTERS" can be found by clicking the above link.  
      I suppose I'll have to choose my words carefully. Chuck Norris is watching. I'll oblige only because Bruce Lee's reincarnated-self is not here to protect me. 
      These characters are the vermin of cinema. But they are the best vermin, contaminating the world, charmingly, one evil at a time. They are simply too good at being bad. While their actions, behavior, and generally their outlook on life is morally objectionable and admittedly terrifying, their determination and affinity for destruction is captivating. 
      Evil is not the prerequisite, but its very existence is crucial to my ultimate aversion to these characters. So, I urge you to tread cautiously. Trading glances with individuals so miserably appalling is known to be the predominant cause of nightmares. As we all know, fear leads to madness. Do not let fear transform you into a revolting character of cinema. I never want to see any of you lovely readers creepily decorating one of my future "Love to Hate" installments. I for one harbor no such fear. 

5). Jane Greer's Kathy Moffat, Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)
How can outward beauty that rivals Aphrodite be the subject of my disgust? How a woman whose elegance and raw physicality, proof that ethereal perfection exists, could be identified in such notorious light is confounding? Or perhaps it's not so mysterious. It's because internally there is darkness. What triggers her beating heart is the dank residue of conceit, where evil pulsates with indiscriminate force, its warpath unrelenting to those tragic few caught in its violent throws. Like the bloom of a plant. Ms. Moffat is the carnal embodiment of attraction. But her inflorescence betrays humility. A flower so superficial simply wilts under sunlight, the perception of goodness stymied by a garden of deception. She is the kind of woman with a conniving nature who uses her looks not simply to manipulate admiring men—courting materialism her primary pursuit—but for malicious, destructive ends. Moffat's final betrayal elicits near-total indignation. Though I must subside somewhat at the point of complete detest because her rotten presence propels one of the greatest line deliveries in the history of cinema, originating from that man whose talent, if measured by distance, could fill every crevice of the Grand Canyon, Robert Mitchum. His genius never more evident than in his flawless command of this magnificent dagger, "Look, just get out, will you? I have to sleep in this room." 

4). Tom Berenger's Sergeant Barnes, Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)
Elias was my dude and Barnes fucked with him. He fucked with him on a scale far worse than Gny. Sgt. Hartman fucked with Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. I will concede that Oliver Stone portrays war itself as the primary villain of Platoon. Unhinged military conflict unleashes monsters in certain men, desensitizing them to war's real horrors. But Sergeant Barnes kills Elias and to say that it is unforgivable is a gross understatement. Beyond his psychotic talent for which murdering is his chief export—and I would put him up against virtually all violent movie characters—Barnes is an awful leader, a man whose affinity for violence obliterates morale and disrupts unity. Nepotism, recklessness, barbaric posturing, extreme amorality, unnecessary antagonism; these are not the traits championed by a hero, but characteristics of a ruthless guerrilla mindset. That he murders a subordinate should be something of a clue that Barnes does a terrible job of leading his platoon. His detachment from humanity predicts certain doom and his subversion of discipline necessitates a schism within his unit that leads to irreparable fractures. Battlefield cliques compete for macho dominance. Subjecting your men to unnecessary dangers, men whose very existence depends delicately upon the winds of your direction, is disgraceful. And for what reason? To justify a falsely defined manhood? The madness talked about in the great climax of The Bridge on the River Kwai, and reminiscent of Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, are harbingers of Barnes' psychological descent, one whose destination is total insanity. Joseph Conrad's "Hearts of Darkness" aptly anticipates men of Barnes' faculty. But his wretched nature, which is unmistakably corrupted by the inhumanity of the Vietnam War and the chaos of the American effort (which was largely precipitated by poor strategic planning from the home front), leads to one of the great, enduring death scenes. Those who've not seen the film I will not spoil it. Just know that there are traces of cinematic perfection to be gleamed.

3). Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
Nurse Ratched is synonymous with terror of the psychological breed. Her uncolored appearance and suppressed sexuality belies an inaccessible cruelty. Buoyed by the circus of vulnerable patients who are incapacitated by the static authority of being institutionalized, she abuses her dictatorial house of disorder, exposing them to routine torment. She manipulates behind a face of chilling dispassion, under protocols that accentuate the anxieties of her patients. The one man who poses any real challenge to her authoritative carnage is lobotomized. McMurphy, who is our hero because Jack Nicholson's charisma is that infectious (oh, yeah, the author intended it this way, too), dresses with dignity and radiates gusto for living and breathing that is palpable. This is precisely the behavior seen as disposable and unnecessary to the evil Nurse Ratched. McMurphy teaches these traits to his ineffectual inmates. And while McMurphy is far from perfect, his zest and outlook on life helps inspire in his brethren a fervor for living. Ratched despises this development and makes him pay the dearest price. Instead of building up the patients under her care, imparting some kind of meaningful lesson, or approximating the potential for life beyond those claustrophobic walls, she seeks to methodically break them down, dehumanization her choice tactic. She waves her callous power like a magic wand (i.e. taking away their cigarettes, which they use to gamble with). Degrading therapy sessions are her idea of exercising efficient control. Packaging the insecurities of the inmates into a compartment of fear is her chief aim. It decorates her tyrannic regime with a heartless and disgraceful blight. She deludes herself into thinking that she is assisting these patients, yet her passive-aggressive temperament proves otherwise, as she breaks the covenant of "primum non nocere." It is as if she derives some sort of seductive pleasure from controlling these men; her rigid aura personifies this troubling methodology. She deals with McMurphy's usurpation of her authority terribly. But his co-existential conquest triumphs. His enlightening impact on his fellow inmates is best understood through the actions of Chief, who embraces the freedom that McMurphy embodies (in his own equally quirky way). One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is ultimately a firm critique of the poor way institutions deal with mental illness. Lambasting Nurse Ratched's totalitarian tics is the key determinant. Her patronizing, possessive, manipulative nature enhances her own inhumanity, marginalizing the lives of those in her care. But the criminality of her ways is handcuffed by the joie de vivre of Randle McMurphy. I doubt such enjoyment and happiness could be expressed from Ratched if it were painted on her face. 

2). Strother Martin's Captain, Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)
 
I suppose it's not a coincidence that both One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cool Hand Luke feature prominently in my list as they are two films I deeply admire. McMurphy and Luke, the central protagonists in both films respectively, champion a common existentialism. They refuse to be broken down or corrupted by anything or anyone, and never succumb to conformity; virtues worth admiring. Captain, however, is the furthest from this ideal. As the prison warden of an inhumane work camp, he retains his power by oppressing others; his brutal reign responsible for the death of one of my all-time favorite characters (the aforementioned Luke). Is Captain a sadist? I think so. Subjugating Luke to the "box" on the convenient presumption that he "might run" because his mother dies is the pinnacle of cruelty. And it is only after this event that Luke truly embraces his rebellious nature. Luke is a man so consumed by the widespread wickedness of the world that he challenges his mortality. Captain is the symbol of that wickedness, and therefore, Luke's archenemy. In some sense, Cool Hand Luke is a Christ figure, a martyr, a man who consciously seeks punishment to force humanity to reflect on the ways of the world. And with this theoretical reading, it can be logically argued that Captain is the principal embodiment of all that is systematically wrong with the world. Some choose not to view Captain as a wholesale villain, just a man doing his job with the fierce markings of a perfectionist. But that is precisely why I perceive him as one of cinema's most memorable villains. The very job he fearlessly protects—the sanctimonious morality of imprisoning "criminals"—positions him in a self-righteous light as an arbiter of good and evil, the core dualism of the world on full display. But his actions, in my estimation, never align properly with this apparent morality, provoking a startling disconnect. The nature of his job, like a random avenue of the world, is corrupt. The world is not impervious to corruption and Captain is its most corruptible. This paradoxical thinking makes for a provocative juxtaposition. But what I refuse to concede is the artifice of good in Strother Martin's Captain, who it should be noted plays him, in demeanor, speech, and mannerism, flawlessly.  

1). Eitaro Shindo's Sansho, Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)
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Sansho the Bailiff is only the most disreputable incarnation of evil ever committed to screen. If someone oozes villainy from their pores so completely and effortlessly, commits atrocities with such casual conviction, then they deserve unfailing contempt. This bristly-bearded slavemaster is as merciless and inhuman a man as I could imagine. The image he projects to the world is vicious. He governs a barbaric prison camp, where he fulfills both his fantasies of bully and sadist with exacting resolve. The men who surround him, save for his only son, yield to his every harsh whim. He fosters an environment of servitude, intimidating those he has imprisoned into a hopeless life of fear. Devastating images of depravity encircle his rotten holding. Branded on the foreheads of prisoners who attempt escape are scars, which simply serve as the permanent reminders of his dictatorship. He is a tyrant in every sense of the word. Some men are born without a capacity for compassion or potential for mercy. They impose on others a debilitating fear, in which living justly is impossible. Social tyranny and divine sacrifice, consequently, serve as the thematic backbone of Mizoguchi's harrowing saga. An aristocratic family is forced to contemplate their life and unite through redemption and love. Sansho conditions in the children of this family a persistent stain of misery. Suffering is the currency of wisdom and causing it the seal of Sansho's reign, which speaks to the corruptible influence of power. And perhaps this is why Mizoguchi's melancholic story resonates so powerfully. Tragedy befalls an unsuspecting family for no good reason. Their coerced descent into hell is cultivated gradually, forcing them (and the audience) to drown in the sorrows of their misfortune while the natural progression of life unfolds before them (an unforgettable depiction of pain and suffering, and the dichotomy of life and death). The years advance, days grow longer, faces wearier, their capacity for heartbreak more severe, but nothing peaceful emerges to comfort this family's journey. Or does it? I refuse to spoil the brilliance of this film, so I won't expound further. But it is important to state that while this family's precipitous fall into hell is revealed with a deliberate, dawdling, painterly touch, their ultimate fate is expressed somewhat dispassionately, the virtues of enduring souls extolled. Sansho is no enduring soul except in the annals of infamy. 


      Final thoughts: If Twilight were one character and not the bastardized cinematic equivalent of mucus, it'd be my number one aversion. No question. But a crap movie was not eligible. Ralph Fiennes' Amon Goeth from Schindler's List, John Huston's Noah Cross from Chinatown, Dennis Hopper's Frank from Blue Velvet, and Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter, were also strongly considered. 

13 comments:

  1. Nurse Ratched was a vile character!

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    1. By vile you certainly mean a passive-aggressive bitch that makes one's skin crawl. Yep, that pretty accurately approximates Nurse Ratched's persona.

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  2. Oh I want to be mean to each and every one of them! Fantastic choices!

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    1. LOL! You've my full permission, Craig. But do not disclose your methods. I prefer to be in the dark about these kinds of things.

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  3. Alex, Nurse Ratched was vile yet brilliant. Very interesting list, Matty, though I expected to see some much more annoying characters.

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    1. Brilliant indeed, sir, and that was my point. I chose to forgo a compilation of purely "annoying" characters for annoying's sake because that list would consist of films I deeply disliked. And my one rule: Films I disliked were not eligible.

      All that being said, if I had to think long and hard about truly annoying characters who are effectively annoying and are central to films I actually enjoy, then I'd probably go with someone like Bill Lumbergh (played hilariously by Gary Cole) from Office Space. A complete and utter douchebag whose office deserved to be torched. Annoying on the other spectrum would be someone like Sam Witwicky because the first Transformers would qualify as a strong film (not so much for the latter two).

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  4. Nurse Ratched is indeed the embodiment of vile and malicious. She held herself as lord and master over those patients, emasculating them and relishing every little dig and cut. Fletcher let that malevolence bleed out through her eyes. What a cold, reptilian gaze she had! Ratched is one of cinemas greatest villains.

    Incredible list. I would include on my own personal list, Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker, Keira Knightley in every film she has ever done, along with Shia the Beef. I don't know why they continue to work, Keira and Shia have soured my enjoyment of some good films.

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    1. You've made a more compelling, insightful case than I regarding the abject horror show that is Nurse Ratched. Well-done!

      Haha! Hayden was rather dull and unmemorable. It was the ideal interpretation if you prefer bland, insipid exercises in how not to be watchable. I'm not as averse to Knightley but she does test one's patience on occasion. And Shia the Beef, as you so lovingly point out, is often a case study on performance-less acting. But I did like him in Disturbia (and the first Transformers).

      Thanks for chiming in!

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  5. Excellent choices, all (even if I haven't seen #'s 1 or 5...yet). Thanks for sharing, Matthew; I especially appreciate the reasoning behind your selections.

    If I were to put my own list together, I expect I'd snag some you mentioned (Nurse Ratched, for instance). Other possibilities: Bob Gunton's Warden Norton (The Shawshank Redemption), Frances McDormand's Linda Litzke (Burn After Reading), and the guy in the row behind us who drunkenly cheered every action by Doug Hutchison's Percy Wetmore (The Green Mile).

    And the one I'm absolutely sure would make my list: Angela Lansbury's Eleanor Iselin (The Manchurian Candidate).

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    1. Thanks, Nate!

      I'm glad you enjoyed my reasoning because I felt like a "Love to Hate" list could have easily devolved into a backyard bashing where annoying tics get amplified.

      Awesome list, my friend! Nurse Ratched is a prerequisite. I didn't think about Warden Norton, but I feel remiss because he is an absolute hooligan. Linda Litzke is also a pest. Frances McDormand is such a phenomenal actor. Have you seen Blood Simple? Amazing performance. And I'm laughing at your inclusion of that drunken buffoon who tainted your enjoyment of The Green Mile. Obnoxious behavior at the theater is disgraceful, truly one of humanity's greatest sins.

      Yes! Eleanor Iselin is terrifying. The original Manchurian Candidate is one of my favorite films (in my personal Top 100). I think Lansbury's performance is first-rate, as are Sinatra's and Harvey's. What a cast and film!

      Thanks again, buddy!

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    2. Yep, I've seen Blood Simple. A fantastic debut both for her and the Coens. I believe I've seen every Coen Brothers film except for The Ladykillers (although I did see the original with Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers... which is to say I didn't watch it with them, but that they were in it. Still are, in fact).

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    3. Matthew, it's no wonder Ratchett is listed as one of the top ten villains of all time.

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    4. @ Nate

      The entire Coen Brothers' filmography is astounding, boasting some of the modern cinematic gems of the past 30 years. I've never seen The Ladykillers remake either, and like you, every other Coen Brothers film is somehow permanently etched in my memory bank.

      @ Maurice

      Haha! Ratchett is a funny play on her name whether intentional or not. And you are right, her reputation as one of the memorable villains is wholly deserved.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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