Why Do Movies Give Villains Breathing Problems?
Hello! Are you an aspiring director, screenwriter, or costume designer, looking for that special something to make your villain seem extra menacing? Have you considered giving them some kind of respiratory issue? Y'know, an oxygen tank or an inhaler, or, if you're into sci-fi, a fancy, scary-looking mask that acts like one? Something that very obviously labels your character as sick and therefore evil and less deserving of the audience's sympathy. Or, actually, better yet? Maybe you could try not doing that bullshit anymore; you ableist hacks.
Seriously, in Hollywood, the rule seems to be that if you want your villain to be responsible for the soiling of every pair of pants in the audience, make it difficult for them to inhale oxygen like a normal. Darth Vader is the first and most obvious offender, but he's far from the only one. There's also Jigsaw from the Saw series, Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road, Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, Kabal in Mortal Kombat, Marie L'Angelle in Preacher, and, of course, Hector Salamanca from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
But wait! There's more! Saw Gerrera, onetime Rebel, has a respirator in Rogue One – y'know, after he's branded a terrorist. He didn't have one when he was still a good guy! Meanwhile, Bane from Dark Knight Rises looks and sounds like he has a breathing problem, though it's technically an anesthetic gas he's huffing. And if you want to expand it just a little bit further into more general life support, you've got Mr. Freeze, General Grievous, the Emperor in Rise of Skywalker ...
What the hell, Hollywood? Why is supplemental oxygen so scary to you? Were you all inappropriately touched by an uncle with emphysema or something? Everyone needs oxygen; it's a literal fact of life.
Even children and monkeys know that.
Is it the sound of hissing and clicking? Because I don't know if you know this, but lots of other things make noise, too. Like, all kinds. Maybe try writing a faulty carburetor or deflating balloon into your script. Do you think giving a villain a respiratory problem humanizes them? Make them philanthropists or people who run an orphanage for puppies or something. Is it somehow unnatural to need assistance or to, gasp, keep living even if you're sick? A sin to not want to be dead? Because Bruce Springsteen has an entire song about why that's wrong.
And, look, if oxygen tanks and inhalers and spacesuits that double as iron lungs were ubiquitous across all spectrums of morality, that'd be one thing – but they're not. Respiratory issues and supplemental oxygen are always evil. Or a sign that someone's dying, that someone's lost some battle. Heroes, according to Hollywood, don't need help breathing.
On the rare occasions that a hero does need medical assistance, they get turned into superpowered cyborgs. No oxygen tanks, no raspy, scuba-tank sounds. And inhalers are only for nerds and monsters. No, heroes' respiratory problems get erased ... just like every other disability or physical ailment. Sure, Daredevil's blind, but every iteration makes it a point to tell the audience that, don't worry, he can still "see." Cyborg got at least as messed up as Anakin Skywalker, but you don't hear him struggling for air from down the hallway.
Literally hundreds of millions of human beings have respiratory issues, and asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease. Why single out difficulty breathing as a sign of evil? Why other and ostracize sick kids? They've got enough on their plates.
Also? At this point, it's just plain lazy. Try harder.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.
Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures