Anti-heroes are protagonists that are heroes, but lack all the typical characteristics of heroism, like idealism, noble courage, and morals. Many anti-heroes do the right things but for the wrong reason. Readers and viewers remain sympathetic to them because they can find just enough likable qualities in these otherwise despicable characters. Other anti-heroes, however, are the misunderstood. These protagonists are the ones everyone expects to be evil, to misbehave, or to let them down, but in truth, will take a worthy stand against evil, tyranny, or injustice.
For instance, Jack Sparrow, of Pirates of the Caribbean, is a bloody pirate. He plunders, steals ships, spurns prostitutes after making love to them, and generally causes mischief. Even given his wicked ways, however, this pirate lives by a code of honor. He saves a drowning woman, attempts to make fair trades, all the while expecting his opponent to try and outsmart him. He reunites lovers, and tries to right wrongs on behalf of his crew. Despite his rapscallion ways, we love him because he’s about as harmful as a cute little puppy… Oh wait, I have a puppy… Well, Sparrow’s just not very harmful. We’ll leave it at that.
Shrek is another beloved anti-hero. He lives in the wilds because he can’t stand people. It takes a silly, annoying donkey pestering him to get him to engage with the living again. And in the end, he becomes the hero while still maintaining his curmudgeonly ways. He’s an onion with lots of layers.
Even Severus Snape, of the Harry Potter series, is this type of misunderstood anti-hero. Through most of the story, Rowling’s proficient at making the reader loathe this professor of Potions and The Dark Arts. We despise him because he always has it out for Harry. Hatred and jealousy are his apparent driving forces. He simply looks the antithesis of all that Harry, Ron, and Hermione stand for. It’s only when we catch glimpses of his love for Harry’s mother that we begin to suspect our misjudgments about the deeply wounded wizard. And, finally, when he takes on the task of training Harry in Occlumency, we have to entertain the possibility that he truly wants to protect the lad. In the end, we’re left wondering how many of his actions against Harry we mistook as his intent to harm the boy.
Unlike Snape, Sparrow and Shrek are easy to like. They’re fun, witty characters, but their backgrounds are mostly incidental to the main storyline. By building on Snape’s backstory over the course of the series, Rowling successfully creates a character that we hate at first, but eventually come to understand, even mourn for.
I admit I’m not a fan of the anti-hero whose motivations remain evil throughout the story. I need some socially redeeming qualities or growth in a character to keep my sympathy up. Nevertheless, this Snape, Shrek, or Sparrow type of anti-hero I love. Here’s why:
This type of protagonist is the one who’s been so badly burned that he/she is deeply scarred. And yet, beneath the tough exterior is a heart that still beats with hope for a less cruel world. They are the true heroes, who in spite of all the lost battles and all the pain they’ve experienced, will still rise to the calling when the need arises.
Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite anti-hero of this type. Scout and her brother think he’s the devil incarnate. It’s only at the end of the story where Boo saves the kids that we learn of the poor lad’s past. In an instant, our suspicions turn to admiration, love, and respect for the man.
I think we all want heroes who’ve risen from the ashes of pain and despair. We want to know their flaws because, then, we can begin to forgive the flaws we see in ourselves. We still want the hearts of gold, the valor, the courage, but we especially love them if they’re wrapped in tattered or tattooed skin.
So wear your flaws proudly, but never give up hope that the world can be less cruel. Each act of bravery and kindness you perform on behalf of another will truly be heroic, if only for that one person.
If you’re looking for a few anti-hero movies to boost your mood here are a few of my favorites besides the ones I’ve already mentioned:
War for the Planet of the Apes: This is the most recent installment of the series and it’s an AMAZING story. Caesar is the true anti-hero.
Along those same lines is King Kong: Skull Island: This movie will leave no question about who the true hero and villains are.
V for Vendetta: Quite a poignant movie for our current affairs.
Give love, live loved, live the hero’s life, flaws and all. Everyone can be one, and all of us need one.