5 Horrifying Movie Characters People Idolize For Some Reason
Movies generally have two kinds of superfans. There's the kind that goes home after watching and dissects every line of dialogue, every angle, and every note in the score to try to uncover layer after layer of hidden meaning, maybe even reaching depths that the filmmakers themselves were unaware of. Then there's the kind that has a strong emotional reaction in the theater, walks outside, and shouts into the night sky, "I WILL ANALYZE NOTHING!" and then declares it their favorite film from that point forward. While I envy the latter group's ability to have emotions, I'd still like them to take a second look at some of the antiheroes they hold in high esteem. Some of them aren't meant to be role models to be quoted and emulated. So says me -- and often, the directors of the films as well.
From its release in 1999 until the fall of Western civilization, every college-aged dude in America has had to have a Fight Club poster in his dorm room. And imitating the movie, real-life fight clubs sprung up all around the country. That's because people weren't just appreciating it as a movie; they thought of it as a movement. Who wouldn't want to be like the hyper-masculine Tyler Durden, who spat in the face of the soulless, neutered, consumerist culture? And what he spat in their face was blood. And possibly not his own. Badass, right?
Gross, but badass.
For the first half of the film, Durden is undeniably badass. He lives above and beyond the rat race that traps the rest of us. He pulls the Narrator out of the prefabricated life he is sleeping through and introduces the fight clubs, which make him feel again. The clubs are a subversive secret that bring color back to the world and reconnect men with their animal side. Durden fights, fucks, and philosophizes like a god. He's like if Neo from The Matrix learned how to fuck, fight, and philosophize. We would all love to become acolytes of Tyler, and that's exactly the point. That's what's supposed to make the second half of the movie such a gut-punch.
For the second half of the movie, Durden is literally a terrorist, an objectively deplorable person with a completely unenviable life. He and his group go around blowing up electronics stores, threatening public figures, and generally doing things that make him look like an exemplary Al-Qaeda affiliate. His coup de grace is blowing up several buildings that hold credit card records in an effort to erase all debt.
"It's not terrorism if the Pixies are playing."
Aside from the fact that he's clearly wrong that this would erase all debt, it's also a goal that makes him a complete and utter asshole. Durden outlines his vision for the future by saying, "In the world I see, you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center." He envisions a world set back hundreds of years, which might sound like more fun than working in an office if you're a young, able-bodied dude. If you happen to have been born with any kind of disability, that probably sounds like the indirect murder of millions of people. For all his care to make sure the buildings are empty of any security personnel, Durden's plan would still kill their kid with congenital heart disease. And he'd do it for little more reason than thinking data entry is boring.
We end the movie with Durden defeated, having caused a bunch of property damage but ultimately (thankfully) to little consequence. To see Fight Club and want to emulate him is to completely miss the point -- which people still do, despite the fact that Fincher has said openly that it is satire. Durden's appeal in the first half is supposed to underscore how grotesque his ideas are when taken to their extreme. Seeing Tyler and then opening your own fight club is like seeing a movie about the Jonestown massacre and opening a Kool-Aid stand.
At its core, Oliver Stone's Wall Street is a love story. It's about the love between America and making boatloads of cold, hard cash. And nobody personifies that love better than Gordon Gekko, the world-class deal-maker who gave us the line "Greed ... is good." (The only thing quoted more often by finance bros than "my wife.") It's easy to see why he captivated the nation. He was sitting on top of the world with money, power, and a justification for laissez-faire economic policies that would make Ayn Rand blush. His gleaming example inspired a generation of stockbrokers to go into the business. They all wanted to be just like Gordon.
But Gekko is such a pitiful douchebag that the only possible explanation for finance bros looking up to him is if they stopped the movie 15 minutes in to blow copious amounts of coke off the DVD. If only they had bothered to watch the rest of the movie, they would have seen that it's a rather heavy-handed morality play, in which Gekko couldn't be more of a villain if Oliver Stone put him in a black hat, twirling a mustache and strangling kittens.
The original script had him smoking only the finest of imported orphan fingers.
First, Gordon isn't good at trading. He makes all his real money trading on insider information he gathers from people looking to curry favor with him. He's basically a walking Ponzi scheme. Second, he isn't even very good at cheating to win, since he gets caught for insider trading, which is apparently harder than finding a Taylor Swift concert in a snowstorm. Third, he wasn't even sitting on top of the world. Gekko is obsessed with a much richer, more successful, and (hint hint) much more moral businessman, Sir Lawrence Wildman. When Wildman tells Gekko off for destroying blue-collar jobs, it's shocking that "APPLAUSE" doesn't flash across the screen.
Gekko contributes nothing to the world, he puts workers out on the street in order to turn a buck, and is rich but is made miserable by insatiable avarice. He's basically a Soviet caricature of an evil capitalist come to life, who gets his comeuppance for his misdeeds. And yet actual, smart human beings who are capable of paying someone to complete college for them look up to him for it. Michael Douglas said he still gets finance bros coming up to him saying, "You're the man!" It's deeply, deeply depressing.
Any Character In Goodfellas
The Godfather really romanticizes mob life, portraying mobsters as honorable, rational people involved in a deep familial struggle. Goodfellas is very intentionally the opposite. The mobsters are more realistic for their petty, cruel, and kind of boring nature. But hardcore fans of the movie treat it like it's The Godfather Begins -- a gritty reboot of the same heroic story.
Take, for example, last year's incredibly stupid essay "Women are not capable of understanding GoodFellas." It claims that the three main characters "are exactly what guys want to be ... a small group of guys who will always have your back." Just like other fanboys of this trio, the author seems to have missed the ending of the movie, wherein Ray Liotta testifies against his bosom buddy Robert De Niro to save his own ass. They quote Joe Pesci's character at his most psychotic, dangerously defensive moments, as though this movie were a zinger-packed John Wick: Origins.
Also, everyone ends up miserable. In case you haven't seen it, Scorsese summarizes the plot as "a bunch of outlaws do this incredible robbery and they all kill each other and the police get them in the end." He says he views it as a cautionary tale about this lifestyle, "Scarface without Scarface." To romanticize these guys is to romanticize crying on the floor, panicked and at wit's end because your wife flushed the last of your cocaine. You know, cool mobster stuff.
How many Mad Men-themed parties were you invited to when the show was on the air? For me, it was zero, but for my friends who get invited to parties, the answer is a lot! We were all drawn in by the show which stole our hearts with sexy suits and casual racism. And nobody wore those suits better, had the sex sexier, or was more kind-of-OK-to-black-people-considering-the-time than Don Draper.
"Some of my best secretaries are black."
We think of Don as a sex symbol because he had a lot of it. It's shockingly rare, however, that people step back to consider whether they'd want the kind of sex he was having. In the course of the show's seven seasons, sex ruins nearly every relationship with a woman he has. Don's philandering quickly gets very sad as the show goes on. It loses him two wives and the respect of his daughter. The man is so completely destroyed by his personal and emotional shortcomings that the series ends with him trying to piece his identity back together with the least Don Draper thing imaginable: a meditation retreat.
Remembering Don Draper for being sexy is like remembering the Deepwater Horizon for being a really efficient oil rig. "Ooooh, you look very Don Draper" should be taken to mean, "Oh Jesus, you look like your vices have cost you everything you hold dear."
In real life, he'd have pee pants in at least 60 percent of his scenes.
Tony Montana is the lead character in the incredibly popular Scarface posters and T-shirts. But apparently few people know that he was also in a movie of the same name. Now, there's a lot to like about Tony. He's an underdog leaving communist Cuba hoping for a better life in the United States. He sticks to a strict "family first" moral code, even when it's dangerous for him to do so. And he's a self-made man. He didn't inherit his daddy's cocaine empire, nor did he attend a fancy Ivy League cocaine management program. He did it all himself.
The downside is that all of his success spurs him into a downward spiral, becoming a coke-addled, bitter, paranoid kingpin with an existential crisis. He quickly becomes bored with his wealth, as he can't use it to get anything he really wants. He pushes away the only woman he ever wanted, who calls him a "loser" and leaves him. He murders his best friend, and he finally loses the one thing he held sacred when he gets his sister killed.
That's when the most iconic moment of the film happens, when Tony goes into berserker mode and tells a boatload of the rival cartel to, "Say hello to little friend." Badass, right? This is the Tony people idolize: rich, powerful, shooting the living hell out of all his enemies. You can see why that would be on a poster.
Except that wasn't the main poster for the movie; that's the revisionist poster many people remember now. The main poster was much more reflective of the actual tone of the movie.
The end of the film isn't Tony busting caps to rebuild his empire another day. At the end, Tony has destroyed everything that mattered to him and is surrounded by his enemies. Rather than make the smart play and retreat and regroup (as he does earlier in the film when attacked), Tony goes on a suicidal rampage. His wanton disregard for his life isn't because he's such a badass; it's because he has nothing to live for and knows this is the end. All that for just a few years near the top. It turns out the real drug was hubris.
Dark, right? Not if you've just absorbed Scarface from pop culture references! If you've never actually seen the movie, but have just seen it referenced many, many times, you'd think this was the story of the founding of a cocaine Rome -- a legacy made to last hundreds of years.
I don't get it, and neither does Al Pacino, but people look up to Tony so much that the ending seems to disappear from memories faster than an eight ball on Miami Beach. No matter what the movie says, they see Tony as someone to aspire to. There was even a video game which tried to "fix" the ending, so that Tony (a murderer who has lost everything he lived for) survives and goes on to presumably bigger and cocainier things accompanied by more extreme existential crises.
It's easy to understand why people idolize these characters. "Despicable" as they might be, they're being portrayed by literally the most charismatic people on earth. That makes them pretty damn attractive. Plus they don't take no crap from nobody, and they (for a brief moment, anyway) get exactly what they want. But so does a fly when it lands on a big, fresh pile of shit. So did Hitler. So does the main character in my WWII-meets-The-Fly alternate reality movie Fly Hitler. (Technically that last one takes shit from everybody, it's kind of his thing.) Just because someone is charismatic and fleetingly gets what they want doesn't mean they should be emulated. That's how we went from the character Alex P Keaton to real life Scott Baio.
Aaron Kheifets is an occasionally mustachioed comedian, writer, and director. You are allowed to follow him on Twitter.
Find out why movie heroes are their own worst enemy in 6 Movie Heroes Who Actually Made Things Worse and see why superheroes are a menace to society in The DC Rape Coverup And 5 Other Horrendous Superhero Plots .
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