Skip

Looking for stories with pitiful but sympathetic villains
November 23, 2007 8:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some stories with pitiful but sympathetic villains?

I'm looking for fiction/non-fiction/movies/plays/TV shows/whatever with a weak bad guy the audience is supposed to find sympathetic.

In particular, I'm trying to find cases where the bad guy is genuinely bad but who also doesn't really deserve what's coming to him. The character should not be too threatening or powerful--I'm looking for characters who are kind of pitiful and in over their heads. He doesn't have to be an antagonist, but it doesn't count if he is portrayed in such a way as not to seem all that bad (as in a lot of crime stories, for example, or stories where the character mopes around feeling guilty). It is also key that the character is *supposed* to be sympathetic and at least a tiny bit likeable.

I'm having a tough time coming up with examples for this kind of thing...two characters that are close are Kardue'sai'Malloc (from Daniel Keys Moran's Star Wars universe stories) and Fagin. Malvolio, Wormtongue, and Gollum are a little further off but still along the lines of what I'm looking for.
posted by phoenixy to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Falling Down. ("I'm the Bad Guy?")
posted by oh pollo! at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2007


Buddy Pine/Syndrome in The Incredibles
posted by geekyguy at 8:04 AM on November 23, 2007


I think you're going to find very few examples of the main bad guy being pitiful and sympathetic. That weakens their function as an antagonist.

You'll probably see mostly characters like Fagin and Gollum, who are not the main villain, but usually a cautionary tale of what happens when one chooses the wrong path.

See also Professor Snape.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 8:05 AM on November 23, 2007


The William H Macy character in Fargo.
posted by essexjan at 8:05 AM on November 23, 2007


Caliban, from The Tempest
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on November 23, 2007


Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) in "Unforgiven":

Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.

Bill Munny: Deserve's got nothing to do with it.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:12 AM on November 23, 2007


Crackle in Sue Townsend's "Ghost Children".
posted by h00py at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2007


Inspector Javert from Les Miserables?

May not fit all your criteria, but I've always felt he was very much in over his head, and very much the victim (of his own worldview, granted).
posted by johnvaljohn at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2007


What was that stupid movie with John Travolta as a former museum security guard trying to get his job back, ends up taking hostages, ends up getting whacked. It has Dustin Hoffman in it, too. Just an average Joe wanting a job to have a paycheck stuck in a situation that escalates due to Hoffman's character (news reporter).
posted by 45moore45 at 8:14 AM on November 23, 2007


Prince John in Robin Hood
posted by Sassyfras at 8:15 AM on November 23, 2007


Bowler Hat Guy from "Meet the Robinsons".
posted by ckolderup at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Lucifer in Paradise lost.
posted by Jahaza at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2007


How about Kevin Costner in A Perfect World.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2007


Just about the whole cast of any Tarantino flick. Think of Mr. Blonde (Resevoir Dogs) or Marcel Wallace (Pulp Fiction). If they're not villians, they're at least anti-heros.

The Cohen brothers do this well too (as mentioned above). I particularly like the example of Carl, Steve Bucemi's character in Fargo.
posted by bonehead at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2007


Mr. Glass in Unbreakable
posted by sandra_s at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The main dude in 'Dog Day Afternoon'.
posted by h00py at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2007


What kind of world view would you have to have to define Mr Blonde as an anti-hero rather than an out and out psychopath? Did you mean Pink?
posted by biffa at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2007


I always thought that Shylock got a raw deal.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:36 AM on November 23, 2007


TV Tropes offers plenty of examples in its Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain entry.
posted by Iridic at 8:37 AM on November 23, 2007


Humbert Humbert
Henry

The frightening part of these two works is how they are able to evoke empathy to some degree from characters who do not deserve it, giving you a peek into the evil which lurks within all human souls. Henry is probably too evil to meet your criteria, but Humbert seems to fit it quite well.
posted by caddis at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Coyote from Road Runner cartoons. He was just hungry.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:47 AM on November 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Roy Batty from the movie Bladerunner fits the bill for me.

Also, the character of Colehouse Walker Jr. from the movie Ragtime.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2007


Roger Chillingworth, the husband in The Scarlet Letter.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:05 AM on November 23, 2007


From Shakepeare: Claudius in "Hamlet," Leontes in "Winters Tale," Shylock in "Merchant of Venice," Caliban from "The Tempest," and Edmund from "King Lear"

From Ibsen, Torvold from "A Doll's House" and Hedda from "Hedda Gabler"

From Chekhov, Serabryakov from "Uncle Vanya" and Natalya from "Three Sisters"

Nabokov: Humbert Humbert from "Lolita" (see also James Mason's portrayal of Humbert on the Kubrick film)

Baltar from "Battlestar Galactica" (the new version) -- pretty pure example of what you're looking for.
posted by grumblebee at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2007


Tony Soprano
posted by grumblebee at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2007


Doctor Octopus, as portrayed on film in Spider-man 2.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:22 AM on November 23, 2007


Roy Batty from the movie Bladerunner fits the bill for me.

In the book upon which it 'Bladerunner' based: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" all of the replicants are pitiful: clumsy and foolish, like slow children who don't see anything wrong about pulling the legs off a spider one by one.
posted by geos at 9:22 AM on November 23, 2007


How about Richard II?
posted by selfnoise at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2007


I would think Anakin/Darth Vader fits the description unless his hamhanded redemption at the end disqualifies him. And perhaps Harry Osbourne/Hogoblin (Spiderman). I guess we'll have to wait a few years to see if any of "the Others" in Lost qualify. Lots of villains from Dr Who (new and old) would qualify--in fact, a brief run through in my mind of many of the sentient villains in Dr Who makes me think most of them are pitiful weaklings twisted by power they achieved in desperation (or who became twisted as a result of run-away technological advances) instead of outright evil beings.
posted by Martin E. at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2007


Maybe not pitiful, but sympathetic: the old Brazilian planter in Jorge Amado's Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, who opposed progress in the town because he loved the beautiful aspects of the old ways.
posted by Quietgal at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2007


This seems a bit like the standard description of a tragic hero, e.g. Macbeth. Someone whose downfall is driven by a fatal character flaw.

Anyway, I suggest Ed Crane from The Man Who Wasn't There, or Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo.
posted by teleskiving at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2007


The Phantom of the Opera.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:01 AM on November 23, 2007


Elphaba from "Wicked - the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West"

It is more a novel describing how she became the way she was.

Nice novel, well written.
posted by bitteroldman at 10:35 AM on November 23, 2007


Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail from Harry Potter is a classic, and to a lesser extent so is Malfoy.

"The Annointed One" from the first and second seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (although really he doesn't last that long, part of what makes him so pathetic, originally he was supposed to be much more powerful). Also Harmony, when she's a vampire... basically seen as a joke by the gang, but desperately trying to be big and evil, and the audience feels sorry for her because Spike is just using her.
posted by anaelith at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2007


Pyle from "The Quiet American". Who I don't think I viewed the way I was supposed to.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:40 PM on November 23, 2007


"THE CODPIECE" (somewhat NSFW). A comic book villain with an.... "adequacy" problem. He's got issues, to be sure, and needs to relax, but all in all, he's kinda pitiful.
posted by mjbraun at 2:40 PM on November 23, 2007


The series about Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson comes to mind for me. They seem to be mostly 'love-'em-or-hate-'em' works, so YMMV.
posted by notashroom at 3:03 PM on November 23, 2007


Soon I will be invincible.

One of the best stories I've read recently.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2007


@selfnoise: How about Richard II

Did you mean Richard III?
posted by johnvaljohn at 6:49 PM on November 23, 2007


Not as highbrow as some of the other answers, but The Office is a good example. Specifically, the American version (Michael Scott is more of a sympathetic character than David Brent)
posted by jpdoane at 9:13 PM on November 23, 2007


the bad guy is genuinely bad

Reading your question over again, maybe the British Office would be a better fit.
posted by jpdoane at 9:17 PM on November 23, 2007


Thanks for all the suggestions, folks...I'll be slowly marking best answers as I work my way through the list!
posted by phoenixy at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2007


« Older High-protein vegetarian diet -...   |  What are some good blogs on li... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post