Today, Lisa Hook drops by with an article on the relevance of the anti-hero. Please read on.
Anti Heroes and Addiction
The anti-hero has existed since the days of Greek theatre, as a character with more appeal than the conventional hero. Whilst the hero had morals, his counterpart had flaws and this is what makes the anti-hero so attractive to his or her audience. Whether it’s a violent temper, a weakness for the opposite sex or an addiction, this antagonist holds our attention and we root for them, perhaps because they seem more ‘real’.
The Noir Anti-Hero
The anti-hero has appeared in various guises through the history of cinema and literature, from Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep to Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre to Lady Macbeth. Through different genres, the anti-hero prevails and historical events have made this character more appealing than ever.
Film noir took the anti-hero to new levels in the 1940s and one of the reasons for this was as a reaction to the atrocities in Europe in World War II. The world was disillusioned and escapism was a way of reaching a new kind of reality. Film noir anti-heroes were hard-boiled detectives, addicted to drink, women, and sometimes drugs.
In The Man with the Golden Arm, Frank Sinatra plays the drug addicted Frankie Machine, determined to live a morally good life when he comes out of prison. Pressure turns him to gambling however and he soon begins his drug addiction once more. Although the film has an upbeat ending, with Frankie kicking his habit, the scene where he goes cold turkey is still considered harrowing by today’s standards. The film remains a reminder about the cold reality of drugs in the U.S. Addiction is not glamorized, but serves as a warning.
The Anti-Hero Today
Political events have always shaped cinema, television and literature, with the anti-hero remaining at the center of the story. Whether it’s Vietnam or 9/11, the events of the 20th and 21st Centuries have shaken us to the core and characters like Frankie Machine, Phillip Marlowe, Dexter and Hannibal become more real for us than traditional heroes.
Dexter Morgan is an anti-hero who is also a serial killer, but who kills with a conscience. He made his appearance in Jeff Lindsay’s crime novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter before appearing on screen. Audiences support him and his decision to kill those who have been confirmed as murderers. Dexter is an intelligent character, working for the police, yet harboring his dark secret and this makes him fascinating and compelling for the audience. He has become an unlikely figurehead for the U.S in the 21st Century.
Another gritty anti-hero is Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Lisbeth is out for revenge on society for what happened to her and she makes a fabulous anti-hero with her fierceness and complex personality. In fact, she has been psychoanalyzed by readers and reviewers, who try to understand what is going on in her mind. She may be autistic; she may be trying to cope with her trauma and therefore has a sort of attachment disorder. Whatever her psychiatric profile, Lisbeth makes a compelling antagonist who is very watchable. Larsson’s series of books are among the highest sellers of the past few years, proving that audiences want a thrilling read and a character who is the driving force behind the stories. The anti-hero is alive and kicking.
More Appeal Than Ever
We celebrate anti-heroes in our literature and on our screens today, more than ever. Why is this? The Global Post claims there is a fault line in the American psyche, that the lines between hero and anti-hero are being blurred and much of this is being laid at the feet of the economic downturn, terrorism and the loss of the American dream. Whatever the reason, it seems we are obsessed with our flawed characters of fiction. This isn’t to say that we are glorifying their flaws; certainly addiction is an issue that is taken very seriously in the U.S today. Frankie Machine’s drug problem was a wake up call to the noir audience of its time and drug abuse remains a very real concern in our society, and one that is receiving much attention. Addiction sufferers can use inpatient drug rehab ratings to find the treatment center that will help them kick their habit and the message is clear: drugs destroy lives. Frankie Machine overcame his heroin addiction in The Man with the Golden Arm and enjoyed a happy ending in this noir classic. The point is that we cared about his journey. Anti-heroes have moral flaws that make them appealing characters because we all relate to moral dilemmas.
The traditional hero is losing his/her appeal in the 21st Century. We want realism, however gritty. Let our anti-heroes be reluctant, angry, narcissistic even. They reflect the times we live in and this is why they work.
(C) Copyright 2013 Lisa Hook