Friday, December 9, 2005

Heroes, Anti-Heroes, and Underdogs

So, about that school assignment that had Rose watching Payback ...

I thought this was an intriguing way to get the kids to actually think about the role of heroes in movies and in our society today. Rose's English class has just finished reading and discussing The Odyssey. To take it a step further the teacher had them write a paper about one of three categories, each containing five movies, how they are targeted to their audience, and how they handle heroes. They discussed the major themes of the categories in class. The categories were:

Children's Movies
(Rose says that the class never came to a definite conclusion in their discussions of this category but it seems pretty clear that it looks at the underdog who rises above adversity to become heroic ... which would make perfect sense for appealing to children.)

Lady and the Tramp
The Sword in the Stone
Lion King
Robin Hood

Teenage Movies
(Examines the anti-hero whose main feature is that they are extremely loyal to their group, not nearly as bad as the people they are overcoming, and there is a high level of coolness.)

Die Another Day
The Italian Job
The Matrix
Ocean's Eleven

Oscar Winners
(This category focuses on the epic hero.)

The Last Samurai
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Saving Private Ryan
Interesting assignment eh? The only problem with the whole thing is that I think the teacher missed two of the picks for the Teenage category.

Payback is rated "R." That in itself is a disqualification for being aimed at a teenage audience who couldn't get in to see it. Also, although Porter fits the anti-hero category (just squeaking in with one or two good traits), there is very little to admire. Neither he nor the movie exudes the element of style needed to be cool enough for mere looks to attract a teen audience either. The teacher admits this is one of his favorite movies (and I can see why) but I think he forced it into that category.

The Matrix does try to paint Neo with a touch of anti-hero at the very beginning of the movie. But that is so little touched upon and so quickly abandoned in favor of the young hero-in-training that it is soon forgotten. Throughout most of the movie Neo is a Christ-figure and a hero. Period. It's totally cool enough but that alone doesn't justify it's inclusion in this category (rewatching this with Rose I realized I had forgotten just how freakin' cool it was).

Hannah maintains that a better choice than The Matrix would have been Equilibrium and I agree that it's a better movie, though I liked The Matrix better on this second viewing than I did the first time around. However, I am pretty sure few of the kids have watched Equilibrium and Preston also is not an anti-hero because as soon as he realizes the truth he starts righting wrongs.

So what would have been better choices?

Instead of Payback, how about Matchstick Men a similar "flavor?" You don't get much more of an anti-hero than Nicholas Cage's character. As for style, granted it is that of the 60's more than today but that is more than compensated for by the sheer attraction of watching the con go on. Another choice that seems to fit would be O Brother Where Art Thou. Anti-hero and old-time charm carried by wit and ... wait for it ... a story inspired by The Odyssey itself.

Replacing The Matrix is even easier. Going for the sci-fi angle we can see that either X-Men or X-2 has Wolverine who barely even fits into his own group because he is such a rebel. Even better, but not out until Dec. 23 on DVD, would be if the teacher considers Serenity ... the ultimate cool anti-hero sci-fi story. The captain plays by his own set of rules and often is hardly sure what they are. Indeed, he is taken to task by his own first mate at one point for his inhumanity. His loyalty is to his group and that alone. Throw in the action, adventure, and humor and it's a tale of anti-hero triumph that any teen loves ... and all that I know did (ok, I did too but what can I say? Y'all know I'm a little backwards a lot of the time!)

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious as to whether Katsumoto or Algren is the epic hero in The Last Samurai? And I'd love to hear what you think. What do you think? My email is and I don't mind it posted to the world :)