Bella Blitz is not the only one living in the Nerdery Public who suffers from a debilitating addiction to bad boys. In fact, our mutual fixation on mischief-makers and evildoers is what brought us together in the first place. She calls her ailment Blitzholm Syndrome, but I am afflicted by something just a little bit different. I have a severe case of what I have termed: Sympathy for the Devil.
I remember the first moment I felt it. That first time when the heroes faded into the background and the villain became the true star of the story in my eyes. At the beginning of Disney’s 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, there is a celebration for the birth of Princess Aurora. Everyone in the land is invited to see the perfect child, peasants and nobility alike. Even three fairies are there to bestow magical gifts upon the babe. All in the kingdom are invited to celebrate except one woman: Maleficent. As she glided elegantly into the room to bestow her own sinister “gift” upon Aurora, I felt a strange tinge in my chest. It was not dislike or even fear. It was raw sympathy. I thought Maleficent was beautiful and that it was cruel of the King and Queen to exclude her from the festivities for being different. From that day forward, every time my friends and I played dress-up and pretend, I volunteered wholeheartedly to play the witch or evil queen.
Those moments continued throughout my childhood. I started to see the “bad guys” as the most complex and interesting characters in every story. The hero of every story is always the same: attractive, bland and largely ineffectual. The villain is usually cunning, dark and very complex. In my young mind, the truly sad story of the Lion King was never Mufasa’s death. It was the way Scar was marginalized and pushed aside by his heroic older brother. I identified with that story. I was the black sheep of my family, too.
As I grew older and my interests became more adult, my fascination with the darker things grew along with me. My dear departed father had a bad habit of allowing my friends and I to watch age inappropriate films at sleepovers, and one night my two best friends and I were snuggled up in our sleeping bags on my living room floor, watching Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I couldn’t have been more than eleven years old and though it was the first time I ever saw a woman’s naked breasts on the screen, there were two feelings overwhelming my heart and mind.
1. A very distinct disgust at the ineffectual bumbling of Jonathan Harker, Dr. Jack Seward, Lord Arthur Homewood and Quincey P. Morris. It took a character like Van Helsing (who was so dark he was practically villainous himself) to drive any real action from the “good” side of the story.
2. A complete, total and utter enthrallment with Gary Oldman’s Dracula. His story tugged at my heart and even though I could not understand the raw sexuality of the scene at such a young age, I desperately wanted to be Mina Murray. I wanted to be crushed in an embrace against this dark creature, tasting his blood and the very essence of his heart. I was fascinated by his sacrifice. Dracula gave up the God he had fought for so desperately. He embraced the darkness and gave up the beauty of light. He gave up his very own soul out of mourning for Elisabeta. To my young eyes, this seemed like a truer kind of love than any of those sweet kisses between Prince Charming and Snow White or Cinderella. They only knew each other for a few days before their fairytale wedding. Dracula waited CENTURIES to find his true love again.
On a superficial level, scoundrels are sexy because they have a certain swagger that lumbering heroes can never hope to achieve. The best sort of villains have razor-sharp wit, intense eyes, devilish smiles and voices as rich as warm dark chocolate. Britain should charge an export tax on the number of classic villains their thespians have produced. Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Gary Oldman alone have dozens of brilliant villains between them. Now that torch is being passed to a new generation, with actors like Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Avengers) and Tom Hardy (Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) each taking scintillating turns as 2012’s epic blockbuster baddies.
Beyond the more perfunctory concepts of looks and charm, I think the reason antagonists are so fascinating to me is laid out very clearly in that song Mick Jagger croons so well. What causes my “Sympathy for the Devil” is that I am puzzled by the nature of their game. Heroes are easy. They play for the side of order and good because it’s what they’re programmed to do. Villains, on the other hand, can have any great number of reasons to embrace the darkness.
Like Dracula, every great villain starts out as a noble and good man (or woman). What I find myself desperate to know is: What IS the game? What caused the devil to renounce his goodness and nobility and go off on such a misguided path? Approval? Love? Insanity? The dark ones fight just as passionately for their cause as the light side. I read a quote recently that stated, “Every villain is a hero in his own mind”.
The truth is, the bad guys are not merely heroes in their own mind and in the minds of warped little girls like me. That is what makes their stories so complex and beautiful. For seven books and eight films, Severus Snape was cast as the secondary villain of the Harry Potter series. It is not until the very end where we finally understand that sometimes, the villain was the true hero of the story all along.