What makes us love an anti-hero, differentiating it from a villain? Kinsey Holley gives us some tips in her essay If He’s Hot, He’s an Anti-Hero; If He’s Not, He’s a Villain. The author argues that there is plasticity in a sort of anti-hero to villain, strongly influenced by the physical attributes of the bad boy in question. For granted, physical beauty has its weight. Since children learn to associate the beauty as an attribute angelic and ugliness as vile. But who see face does not see heart6.
According to James Hillman (1996) the main characteristic of a villain is his cold heart. Hitler in his final speech uttered the following words: “Whatever happens, my heart remains cold” (Hillman, 1996). According to the author the psychological trait that accompanies the cold heart is the rigidity: the inability to give in, change and flow.
The villain takes pleasure in wickedness, enjoying destruction. So their actions are reflections of their cruelty and lack of love and empathy with others. Already, the anti-hero, his actions are the result of their humanity, their complexity and their duality. The anti-hero’s actions can result in great harm, but the motivations are not evil by evil. There is usually a feeling of inadequacy and not belonging. Wanting to be loved and be alone and misunderstood in the world. If everything were a different the anti-hero could be a hero. A villain is always a villain. Love is the way of redemption of the anti-hero and his vulnerability. For the villain, love is a weakness of others, which makes them vulnerable to manipulation and power.
Richard Armitage in an interview offers us another argument: Perhaps we like the villains because we’re not allowed to be bad in real life. Hillman (1996) argues that all human beings have a psychological propensity for destruction. Violence, rage and cruelty are the shadows of the human soul. However, the anti-hero sees his shadow, although it is sometimes overwhelmed by it, he accepts and strives to bring it to light. Since the villain can not accept it in itself, seeing her so projected onto others.
But there is a fundamental difference between the villains of fiction and real life. Generally, the villains of fiction are full of humor, while the real-life villains do not have any. The humor, moistens and smooths, giving life to a common touch. It is the antithesis of greatness, providing self-reflection and freeing us from the arrogance (Hillman, 1996). So maybe we like the villains of fiction not only because we see our shadows, but mainly because we can laugh at our own ridiculous, so smoothing our way from of the shadows to light.
But the real insight I was given again by Armitage in the following sentence: “My thing that I’ve always really enjoyed doing is when you do get cast as the hero, you look all the flaws, for the dark side to the hero. And then with the bad guy you look for the good side of the bad boy.” In other words, Richard Armitage brings the dual nature for their characters, bringing them closer to your audience.
Duality is here seen much beyond light and dark aspect of the human psyche. The duality is defined as the force to be two (Estes, 1994). It is the dual nature that every human being possesses: an external being, who lives in the light of day and within a creature that lives in a world not so visible. If one side is more emotionally cold, the other side is hotter. If one side is full of joy, the other is melancholic. Often one side is happy and settled, while the other feels a longing for “I do not know what.” The creature usually reaches the surface from far away and often disappears in a flash, more always leaves a sensation: something surprising, original and clever (Estes, 1994). Thus, when fell in love with fictional anti-hero fall in love for its dual nature. If one side of him is a villain, the other is a hero. It is the hero who fell in love. The villain however beautiful it will always be the villain.
1. Holley, K. 2011. If He’s Hot, He’s an Anti-Hero; If He’s Not, He’s a Villain. available at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2011/08/if-hes-hot-hes-an-anti-hero-if-hes-not-hes-a-villain
2. Hillman, J. 1996. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Warner Books, USA.
3. Estés, C. P. 1994. Women who run with the wolves. Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman. The Random House Publishing Group, USA
4. Richard Armitage. Interview by Alice Wyllie. So Bad, he’s good. The Scotsman Magazine, 23 July 2011. available at
5. Images of Robin Hood TV series. 2006 (UK). Produced by BBC One. Available in www.richardarmitage.com
6. Brazilian popular saying.