Every character type has a fear, and this is what antiheroes are the most afraid of.
If you love to write characters who are antiheroes, you’ve also probably received the most common yet useless script note: “This character is not likable.”
Look, characters don’t need to be likable. The viewer needs to be able to root for them. The very existence and commercial success of antihero stories prove this point. Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) isn’t a guy you want babysitting your kids, yet we still root for him to become a better person. We see in him a damaged soul that reflects a modicum of our traumas and faults.
The problem isn't with antiheroes themselves, but how we create antiheroes that the viewer can root for when their actions are often despicable. This can be a difficult task. If you do it right, you’ll create some of the most interesting characters ever written. To me, the more deeply flawed a character is, the bigger the journey they go on is, and the more fascinating they are to watch.
In this video, The Take dissects a crucial aspect of antiheroes' fear of the past and how they run from their trauma. It’s a useful analysis for crafting many kinds of characters, but it’s particularly useful in developing antiheroes because it allows us to connect to them and see them as humans.
Although they may do bad things, when antiheroes work — and when we are truly able to root for them — they reveal something about our human nature. They let us know that betterment and confronting a traumatic past are possible. That, or they become a cautionary tale.
Check out the video and read on to learn how you can develop fascinating antiheroes.
The Past is All Made Up
Just like someone who refuses to go to therapy, all antiheroes refuse to look back and engage with the past. In Succession, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) goes so far as to state that the past isn’t real. He sees the future as a blank slate, something he can shape as if he were a god.
Many antiheroes didn’t get the unconditional love and support they needed as children, leading them to develop feelings of shame and self-loathing. The problem is that these characters try to avoid their feelings about their trauma by not dealing with them and instead repressing the past.
Antiheroes are driven by an illusion of who they want to be, which is strikingly different from the person they are. The story we watch is then about the antihero trying to catch up to that image and the pretty terrible things they have to do to get there. Yet, by elaborately attempting to reinvent themselves, they often push themselves further into the self they are trying to avoid.
Why They Only Look Forward
Due to their childhood traumas, antiheroes develop a defense mechanism in which they only look to the future. Constant forward motion has allowed them to survive, yet they repeat the same mistakes over and over, all due to a lack of reflection.
Much of their lives are filled with repetitive self-destructive behavior because the refusal to reflect on their past keeps them burdened by it.
For example, in Game of Thrones, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) hasn’t properly dealt with her rage over what happened to her family, so she ends up massacring King’s Landing and becoming a tyrant rather than the beautiful liberator she set out to be.
Most antiheroes believe that the future will absolve them of who they are instead of coming to terms with that self and putting in the work to change. They project a fresh start with some achievement, person, or place. However, what each of these antiheroes faces is that the future they romanticized can never materialize. They continue to rush forward, ignoring the fact that they are going in circles.
In Mad Men, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) marries both Betty (January Jones) and Megan (Jessica Paré) because they see him as he wants to be seen. Yet neither of these women can change how Don sees himself internally. He is destined to backslide, and both relationships are doomed.
How Antiheroes Can Move On
To move on, you first have to address and process your true emotions surrounding the past. When antiheroes don’t confront their baggage, they often let their emotions control their actions. Sometimes they are not conscious of this or don’t completely understand the "why" behind their actions.
The second thing we must do is take responsibility for our actions and not blame others. At the end of many such stories with antihero protagonists, even the briefest glimmer of reflection may allow them to have moderate redemption.
Often, there is also a realization that those who cause our trauma are similarly damaged. Our parents pass on their trauma to us because that is how their parents damaged them.
Don't Romanticize the Past
The dangers of romanticizing a past that never was should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the world today. Antiheroes, like many today, often have a distorted view of the past and exist in a state of delusion. One of the biggest lessons we can learn from antiheroes is that we must learn from the past as it was, not as we’d like it to be.
If we don’t reflect on and learn from history, we will be doomed to mindlessly repeat it just like antiheroes.
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February 14, 2023 at 8:24AM
Nofilmschool - your adblocker protection is out of whack. I get continued popups from you asking me to disable my adblocker after I have already disabled it. Anyone else?
February 14, 2023 at 7:54PM