Movies are known for creating distinct characters that viewers become emotionally connected to. Great stories can come alive due to powerful characterization, transforming the audience into a captivated fan base. But behind every movie scene lies a character whose inner workings can give deeper insight into their motivations and actions. Let’s take a close-up look at some of our favorite characters from the big screen.
The Science of Characterization
A great character isn’t just a list of traits. Characterization goes farther than the surface, into the inner workings of a person’s mental and emotional composition. Richard Dyer, a film theorist from the 1970s, believes people are a “totality” of their history and biology, social environment, and deepest beliefs. This makes each person unique and all together, these layers create a unique character, even if they they’re playing a part set in a classic, traditional movie genre.
Heroic: Luke Skywalker
Since the term “hero” can have multiple interpretations and definitions, most movie characters who are heroic are determined by the hero’s journey, a classic story-telling formula created by Joseph Campbell that follows the path of an archetypal hero. Classic hero figures in movies often have common heroic traits, such as bravery and courage, and in the case of Star Wars, a Jedi mentor.
Luke Skywalker from Star Wars is a prime example of a heroic hero’s journey. From main character to saviour of the galaxy and wise mentor to the new Jedi of the future, he experienced a full arc of heroics, adventure and development. The character of Luke went from being a naive farm-boy, to a powerful warrior, to a compassionate mentor and unconditionally loyal friend.
He has a firm moral code, follows the Force and duty with unwavering loyalty, and finds courage to make the hard decisions in order to save the lives of his friends and family. His devotion, heroism and courage are seen time and again, from the death-star trench run, to the defense of Hoth and finally, his death-defying claim to redemption when confronting Darth Vader in the emperor’s throne room. Luke’s story is a classic tale of heroism, loyalty and courage.
Comical Relief: DC’s The Joker
Comedy relief characters are put in a story to lighten the mood, break up dramatic scenes, and provide a few chuckles or a few good belly laughs throughout a movie. Often these characters are care-free, jovial and eager to stand up to the hero despite all odds.
DC’s Joker, often seen in Batman movies, is an example of a comedic relief character. Unlike other characters, Joker doesn’t play by the rules and often challenges Batman, stringing together clever plans to trip up Batman and his crew, lightening the situation with quick wit and comedy. He is unpredictable, often role-playing as many different unique characters.
The Joker gets his jollies out of his insanity and loves to ruffle Batman’s cages, often breaking the fourth wall to make light of the situations he gets himself into. From playing hangman with mobsters to impersonating a beatnik poet for an audience of one, his colorful personality makes him one of the most beloved villains in movie history.
The Rebel: Han Solo
The rebel character is often seen in movies as someone who is discontented with the rules or accepted way of life. Movie rebels often break the restrictions set by authority or mainstream lifestyle, often creating a great tension between them and the hero.
The role of rebel can be seen in Han Solo, from the Star Wars films. He starts as a neutral character but due to his heart of gold, often expressed in witty one-liners, he quickly joins the Rebel cause and develops a bond with Luke and Princess Leia. Although he was initially sloppy, selfish and grumpy, by the end of the movie, he has become a hero in his own right.
His rebellious nature is seen in his brashness and anti-authoritarian attitude, often seen in his refusal to do as he’s told and never following through on his commitments. But due to his quick-thinking, improvisation, and reflexes, he is always ready to save the day no matter how much he may fight against it.
An Unforgettable Villain: Darth Vader
Villains are memorable characters with strong personalities. Not only do they have a goal of being accomplished, they have a unique and distinct personality that makes them stand out.
Perhaps the most famous movie villain of all time is Darth Vader from Star Wars. Vader is a classic tragedy villain and his character has layers of nuance and even shades of villainy that keep audiences guessing.
At first, Vader is seen as a feared and unstoppable force. He follows orders without question, whether they are to search for droids in a Tatooine sandcrawler, or to literally have ships shot out of the sky. But despite being a morally grey figure, Vader also finds shades of redemption. He starts out as a natural villain but by the middle of the story, we learn that he still has a conscience, giving him a layered perspective and making him one of the most complicated movie characters of all time.
The Anti-Hero: Tony Montana
The anti-hero is someone who is not a good or noble person but can at times, do great things. These characters, like all others, still follow a distinct story arc, but their actions are often outside the box of ‘right’, often leaning towards morally ambiguous.
Tony Montana of Scarface is a classic example of an anti-hero. He starts out as an illegal Cuban refugee trying to make it in America, rising to power by ruthlessly eradicating his opposition with fear and intimidation. By telling his targets exactly what he’s going to do, and by never getting caught, Tony is able to secure the top spot in the Miami drug scene. His story follows the classic hero’s journey with a twist— he ends up using his strength, courage, and determination to build his criminal empire and hold on to power.
His situation is morally ambiguous and this is what makes his character so fascinating and polarizing. He goes from an underdog to a ruthless drug lord, willing to do whatever he can to stay ahead, making him unforgettable in the history of movie characters.
Movie characters are complex and interesting characters with backgrounds, traits and motivations that make us care and laugh along with them. From the heroic Luke Skywalker to villainous Darth Vader, to comical relief Joker and anti-hero Tony Montana, movies characters have a lot to offer. Each characters’ journey to the big screen would have been very different and has captivated viewer’s’ attention for decades. Taking a closer look at the character’s inner workings gives viewers a deeper insight into the motivations behind their actions and a better understanding of the real person behind the role.