The villain in film is often the creator of an enigmatic problem that the hero strives to resolve through the progression of the narrative. Villains can take on many different forms in character. The hero may be an obstacle in the path of the villain or the villain may be the obstacle. Revenge, capture, vengeance and punishment are also common motives.
Villains are typically set apart early on in the film as the character who is different and in binary opposition to the hero and other lead characters. In Luc Besson’s ‘Leon’ the villain is an obstacle to the lead character and is indirectly involved with Leon himself.In Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ the villain is much more the item of revenge. The villain’s acts and evil doings are a construct of the movie and as such the type of villain presented will depend on the films genre. For instance in Hannibal, a horror and thriller, the villain Lecter is a psychopath and his killings fit in with the conventional shocks of the horror genre and the thriller genre. In ‘Leon’ the villain is despised because of the way he is represented to the audience. As a crooked police officer he is represented as devious and deceptive. The manner in which the villain and the film are represented together to theaudience is a determining factor in the scope, impact and character of the villain.
Villain’s can be set apart from the good through actions that would be deemed unacceptable by the society in which we live. In early film villains would have been easily defined by acts that may not be completely unacceptable to modern day society. An act such as murder would universally be a signifier for the character being a villain. On the other end of the scale the villain may be distinguished by something much subtler, such as a personal vendetta with the hero. As in ‘Leon’ villains are often in a position of powerover the hero, victims and other subsidiary characters within the narrative. This is common in film as well as literature where in lends the idea from.
This study will explore the many film representations of the villain in relation to genre, narrative, audience and film production. ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ are films of a differing genre. They do however show and share several themes such as violence and revenge. Both films have elements of the thriller genre. ‘Gladiator’ is more visually impressive than ‘Leon’ as it is a ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ whereas ‘Leon’ is a grittier real life affair. Both movies share the theme of action, whichis a main focus of both texts. They also share some elements of fantasy and are both fairly formulaic in structure and layout. Other similarities between the two films include similar character roles and narrative structure.
In both films the main protagonist is the central and key figure, the titles of both films anchor this as they both feature the characters name, or alias. The films plot is central to the main character focusing solely upon them. The main plot line of each film is revenge.
Using Propp’s analysis of character roles and narrative progression it is easy to identify the filmsnarrative structure and how the characters fit into it. With ‘Leon’ it is clear that he is the hero and he has an enemy to overcome and a princess to rescue. The princess character in ‘Leon’ is Matilda, a young girl who Leon is stuck with after the villain, Stansfield, murders her parents.
It is this despicable that sets him apart as the Villain. Significantly this happens early on in the film. A personal vendetta ensues between Stansfield and Leon later on because of this and because Leon murders one of the villains colleagues. ‘Leon’ is constructed so that the three-way plot between Leon, Matilda andStansfield becomes the determining factor in the progression of the narrative. The victims in ‘Leon’ are Matilda and her murdered family.
Leon’s father figure in the film is a mob boss, Tony, who serves as the donor and the helper as he provides Leon with money and weapons thus helping the hero. Gladiator’s characters can equally fit into Propp’s roles. As the films title suggests, Gladiator or Maximus is the hero. He is established as the hero early on with the Roman conquests and being portrayed as a family man, something many of the target audience could relate to. Maximus’ princess is his murderedwife who he seeks to avenge.
The villain in Gladiator is the corrupt emperor who murderers Maximus’ family and sends him to his death. The victims in the film are the Gladiators murdered family and anyone persecuted by the corrupt Emperor. The villain in film often takes on the guise of a madman, usually made to be outside of societies normal boundaries. ‘Hannibal’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘American Psycho’ are films where this can be applied. In ‘Gladiator’ the Emperor is seen as psychologically unstable as he has sexual desires towards his sister.
This is a shock to the audience as it is outside of societies borders of decency.Stansfield in ‘Leon’ is represented as being physically and mentally unstable as he is seen taking a pill several times in the film which makes him physically contort. His medical problem is never addressed and is left to audience interpretation. I believe it is a signifier of how the villain is different from everyone else and it sets him aside as the villain. A villain’s personality can depend on the films genre. For instance, in the ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ films the villain is always of foreign descent with a foreign accent and foreign characteristics.
In the time of the cold war the Russians became thestereotypical villains in films such as the James Bond series. More recently South Africa has taken this role as ‘Die Hard With A Vengeance’ shows. This is mainly because of the American origin of such films with America being the primary target audience. These villains are represented as in opposition to the American ideology.
The British accent of Stansfield and the murderous acts of the Emperor in ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ anchor this. ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ have strong character driven plots where the hero and the villain are in binary opposition to each other. Their ideological, professional and personal lives clash, which resultsin the creation of the dilemma and the enigma.
In both films the villains are traitorous. In ‘Leon’ Stansfield is a drugs baron who is treacherous to his profession as he is a corrupt police officer. In betraying the police he is also betraying society and its values, as it is a social institution. In ‘Gladiator’ the Emperor deceives his friends, family and his Roman subjects.
In performing these acts the villains become in binary opposition to the established hero. ‘Leon’ contains a contradiction to the theory I have proposed as he is also of foreign descent having an Italian accent. Stansfield has an English accentwhich places him closer to American ideology than Leon. Empathy is created for Leon as he cannot read English. Matilda teaches him this which is an effective plot device. Gary Oldman is an excellent choice of villain as he has previously been one in many of his film roles.
He appeared in ‘The Fifth Element’, ‘True Romance’ and ‘Lost in Space’ as a villain with similar attributes to ‘Leon’s’ Stansfield. These previous roles all serve well as an intertextual reference to the actor and his placement within the film. ‘Leon’s’ narrative structure is fairly basic and mostly tri-partite. During the beginning of the filmthe location is se, the block of flats in a dirty suburb in New York.
The main characters are also introduced in their normal tasks, Leon on a hitman job, Matilda in her broken home and Stansfield hustling for drug money. The plot is introduced as Matilda’s family are murdered by Stansfield which leads her to turn to Leon as she has no where else to go. This leads into the middle section of the film were the plot is developed.
Matilda and Leon move to a new apartment and begin to bond. The final section resolves the enigma as Stansfield finds the two and the final conflict ensues. Leon singularly resolvesthe enigma, as he is the hero, by killing Stansfield and his self with a grenade. The enigma is resolved to the audience with Leon’s final line in which he tells Stansfield that the grenade is ‘for Matilda’. This brings a resolution to the narrative. ‘Gladiators’ resolution is similar as both the hero and villain die. The role of Matilda is set up as a plot device between the hero and the villain.
She provokes Stansfield by going to the police station top attempt to kill him. This sets up another strain of narrative where by Leon has to rescue her. She becomes the central character at times as she is caught up in theaffairs of the two lead characters. A similar character in ‘Gladiator’ is the Emperors sister as she is seen as someone who needs to be rescued because of her brother’s persecution. Later on she becomes involved in Maximus’ rebellion and found out as a traitor by her brother. In both films the hero’s liberate the princesses by killing the villains even at the cost of there own lives. ‘Gladiators’ narrative is similarly tri-partite as in the beginning the location is set the roads of the Roman empire and Italy, Rome. The Gladiatorial coliseums are also a location that is introduced.
The main characters and the plot are introduced as theEmperor murders his father in order to inherit the throne instead of Maximus. The middle section comes with the murder of Maximus’ family and the capture of the gladiator by a slave trader played by Oliver Reed. This further develops the plot and creates the enigma to the audience. It is typical of cinema to represent the villain as disabled or as having some physical or mental abnormality. This is the case with ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ as in both films the villains are psychologically disabled yet Stansfield is also physically impaired.
This representation is thought to have come from the mostly from society and not from film.Historically, cinema comes from the fairground where the disabled were displayed as freaks. This method was used in cinema to grab the attention of the audience. Disability is closely linked with the horror genre. Psychopathic villains such as Freddy Kreuger were shunned by society in their films narratives because of their vile acts.
They are shown as the villain to the audience as because of their acts and because they are physically ugly. After the success of ‘Le Femme Nikita’ French writer/director Luc Besson discovered that American movie audiences found his gallic style of work more viewable when wrapped up in the guise of an actionmovie. With this came the base for writhing ‘Leon’ as Besson’s genre had an identified target audience. ‘Leon’ attempted to retain much of the audience from other Besson movies such as ‘Le Femme Nikita’ and ‘The Big Blue’. Intertextual references during advertisements would help secure these audiences. ‘Leon’ is a certificate 18 in the UK because of it’s gory content.
‘Leon’ would undoubtedly appeal to fans of independent cinema and would not be targeted at a mainstream cinema audience. ‘Gladiator’ on the other hand would be targeted at a mainstream American audience. The films 15 certificate highlights this. As a Hollywood blockbuster’Gladiators’ audience is vastly different to ‘Leon’s’, as it would appeal to fans of various other genres. Ridley Scott has various other big name movies to his credit including ‘Alien’ and ‘Hannibal’. As ‘Gladiators’ director the grand scale of the film is anchored.
The action genre is typically male targeted as research has found that females prefer films where the roles have more of an emotional attachment such as romance and drama. Both ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ would prioritise on a male audience as the movies would primarily appeal to them. ‘Leon’s’ audience would be male with intertextual references of films such as ‘Le Femme Nikita’ and’Ronin’. This audiences ideology is anchored in ‘Leon’ with the use of representations of violence, guns, a lead character of similar values and positioning of Leon against the evil ‘British’ Stansfield. This is part of their binary opposition which is basically good/evil and rather ironically crime/law. The classes of Matilda and Leon are ideologically opposite to the corruption of Stansfield and his higher-class job with the police which he abuses.
Iconography of New Your includes skyscrapers and yellow cabs. Leon is presented as a stereotypical Italian as he is connected to the mob and his boss owns an Italian restaurant.The audience is positioned in Leon to feel empathy for the hero and Matilda and there is a fairly simple preferred reading to the text. ‘Gladiators audience would be similar to the audience of ‘Leon’ in that it would be mostly male with intertextual references to any other Ridley Scott directed movies. ‘Gladiator’ contains iconography of Rome and the time period with the soldiers dress and uniform, the coliseum, and the Roman army. Maximus begins by being in a position of power but he is significantly reduced to the rank of a slave and gladiator as opposed to his binary opposition, the villain, who is the highest being the emperor.The preferred reading shows how audience is positioned to accept the plight of Maximus even though he himself was a killer for the ‘good’ of the Roman empire.
Villains are nearly always placed in binary opposition to the hero. In the case of ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ these oppositions include good/evil, peasantry/authority, experience/power. The villain can be sadistic, evil, manipulative, violent, psychopathic, and physically deformed. The hero in both films is justified in there own acts of murder because the film is constructed in a manner so that the villain’s acts are for the more evil purpose. Thedeath off the hero and villain in both films could be seen as an all round form of justice as the hero has done evil things themselves in order to resolve the enigma. The villains in ‘Leon’ and ‘Gladiator’ are fairly conventional. The manner in which the hero and the villain are set against each other is a fairly systematic process.
As the narrative progresses further dilemmas are introduced and the conflict continues. All of the key sign’s as to who is the villain are present in both films. T they are represented as being physically and mentally unstable as well as being in a position of power so as to be able to commit the evil acts.