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Portrayal in Modern Media

Without conflict, there can exist no story worthy of telling, and typically the conflict impedes upon the progress of the protagonist. The story of the hero can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them. This villain is usually someone stronger than the hero, in terms of resources, cunning, or power. True heroes are revealed in the choices they make under the pressure from their adversary: the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, and often this is the best indicator of the protagonist’s essential nature.

The most critical trait to a proper villain is their charisma, and their ethic on achieving the desired goal is what makes one respect and, to a certain extent, admire their work. However, there is a new connotation found in modern mediums, as the ‘sympathetic’ villain has become almost synonymous which a charismatic villain. These sympathetic villains are detailed so one understands every point that led up to them being evil; their actions are understandable, and the majority of these villains would never truly call themselves evil because their past justifies actions that most would label as wrong, resulting in a better world for everyone.

The intent with these portrayals is to juxtapose the hero and their evil counterpart, to show their similar paths and development and how people can end up so radically different even though they may have the same roots. This is most notably seen in Voldemort’s transition from Tom Riddle to the “Dark Lord” in Harry Potter. Tom Riddle’s backstory is a complete mirror to his story’s protagonist, Harry Potter, as they both come from complicated family relationships and have powers that are associated with evil and terribleness. Tom Riddle takes this and becomes what he is supposed to be: a no-good Slytherin. Harry is set up in the exact same way; however, he makes the conscious choice of wanting to be a good person, and that is where his path diverges from Riddle’s.

The other type of villain is the negative flat arc villain, who is cemented in being evil and therefore does not change. The story no longer changes the villain but instead the world around them reacts to the villain. They act as an anchor for which the hero to be compared to, as well as, showing the progress and development of the hero. Our modern example of this would be No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. A hitman devoid of conscience, remorse, and compassion who’s psychopathic tendencies drive the story forward without changing or developing Chigurh. The audience sees the clear impact the assassin has on the story, detailing how Llewelyn Moss goes from someone at the right place in the wrong time to trying to protect his family from the hitman.

A villain is worth more than the hero; they are the challenge to the hero’s ambition and goals. The villain initiates the conflict with a story, which ignites the hero’s need to resolve it. In the villain, we identify our best and worst qualities by either disagreeing with the villain’s actions or attempting to comprehend the vile deeds he or she commits. In the end, the hero is defined by their villain just as much as they are defined by themselves, if not more.