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September 28, 2009 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend some good books, TV shows, movies, or video games about people who battle it out with literal inner demons?

I've noticed that I'm drawn to a particular plot: I really enjoy stories in which people with a dark side struggle against their darker half.

Are there any really good examples of this plot that you can recommend? I'm particularly interested in books, but other types of media are fair game. Despite the speculative nature of my request, I'm also open to more "metaphorical" examples of this idea.

I've noticed this trope is very common in shounen anime and manga. The Vizards of Bleach have the sort of quality I dig. When Ichigo had just discovered he was a Vizard, there were several tension-filled chapters in which he constantly fought for control of his human senses.

Another example is the Prince/Dark Prince dynamic of The Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. I love how the Prince is forced to push against the Dark Prince's advances--and how much the Prince acquiesces at first.

Obviously, the seduction of the Dark Side of the Force is a classic idea.

Vampire and werewolf stories are OK, but I'm picky. Lament of the Lamb has the type of vampire plot I like: subtle and more psychological.

I'm finding what I'm searching for a little hard to describe. I suppose here are two ideas to keep in mind: stories in which the hero is taunted by the darkness he's transforming into ("One of us! One of us!") and stories in which the hero fights against something monstrous from within.

If you have any fanfic recs of some of the series I've mentioned that focus on the inner turmoil, I'd love them as well.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you have not seen it and you don't mind a sort of jokey approach to this whole thing, i rthink you'd really enjoy How to Get Ahead in Advertising which stars Richard E Grant as an ad exec who battles wanting to be awesome at his job and wanting to be a good person. He grows a neck boil that becomes sentient and argues with him. Clip.
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Exorcist!
posted by elder18 at 6:47 PM on September 28, 2009

I'm assuming you've read Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
posted by purephase at 6:48 PM on September 28, 2009

I just read The Gargoyle, and thought it was great. Totally engrossing. I think it fits your criteria perfectly.
posted by kimdog at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2009

On the video games front... (oh, there WILL be spoilers)

Xenogears. SO FREAKING MUCH. (If you don't mind that Square kinda... ran out of money around Disc 2...)

Xenosaga does it too, but in a slightly more... abstract-y way. Episode 1 has a boss fight that is literally "let's solve our internal hangups by beating the crap out of some demon."

Final Fantasy 4 also has this literal kind of pushback, but it's very minor... in the main game, at least. In The After Years, though, it's a little more pronounced.

Final Fantasy 6 has a character quest in which you literally go inside someone's subconscious and defeat his guilt over the loss of his wife and kid.

The second half of Tales of Legendia has you fighting "Dark" versions of the playable characters.

Disgaea 3 practically beats you over the head with the concept of beating up your inner demons, but that kind of fourth-wall-breaking is more or less the point of the entire franchise.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 7:01 PM on September 28, 2009

Cronenberg's film version of Naked Lunch?
posted by R. Mutt at 7:02 PM on September 28, 2009

The comic book series Preacher, although it's a pretty weird story.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:04 PM on September 28, 2009

Dexter calls his tendencies his "Dark Passenger" It's a great series and season 4 is just getting started.

It's probably an obvious one, but Angel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer often struggles with his status as a vampire with his soul back.

A History of Violence is, as the title suggests, about someone with a dark past.

Given that you watch Bleach you've probably already seen it, but Princess Mononoke is just about what you're looking for.

The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness also have components of "fighting with yourself"
posted by JauntyFedora at 7:04 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of the difficulties in recommending books like this is there's often an element of giving away plot.

In the classics sense, obviously, we're talking Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Moorcock's Elric series - Elric struggles with the idea of what is expected of him for his culture, which involves, you know, demons and stuff, and being anything else.

I have an interesting book called 'John Crow's Devil' by Marlon James. There's a different, but compelling, concept of spirits - there's hints of vodoun, possession, vying with Christianity - and more mundane power-struggles in the setting of a island village.

I also will bring up the Dexter series by Lindsay, as Dexter is constantly comparing the urges of his Dark Passenger with, well, society. The books eventually play a little more into what I think you're looking for than the TV series, since you get more mental dialogue in the books than you could, realistically, with TV.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 7:09 PM on September 28, 2009

The webcomic Wapsi Square might fit your criteria.
posted by MsMolly at 7:15 PM on September 28, 2009

It's a common theme in Michael Moorcock's novels but especially Elric of Melnibone. Also the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson.
posted by scalefree at 7:21 PM on September 28, 2009

I'm almost afraid to recommend this, since many people consider this Billy Zane's worst! movie! ever! but I really like Invincible.

Two things to be aware of, which might help keep it from sucking for you:

1) This is a Hong Kong movie; it just happens to be made in English.
2) The movie is an extended Buddhist allegory, based on Jet Li's Tibetan Buddhist beliefs.
posted by Lexica at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2009

I highly recommend Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff. It uses multiple personality disorder as the trope for battling with oneself, in a deep and interesting way (there's mystery, romance, great plot).

Love this question, by the way. I'm working on a children's novel where the kid's lower self shows up in his dreams as a schoolyard bully.
posted by alicat at 7:32 PM on September 28, 2009

This is what episodes 25 and 26 of Evangelion are about... Right? Maybe?
posted by martens at 7:36 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Lord of the Rings you've probably already read, but it jumps to mind. This happens to a couple of characters, Gollum most literally.

Somebody already mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I'll second that. There are quite a few characters who have this dynamic going on to some extent, not just Angel.

Macbeth, in a way. Demons not literal.

Notre Dame de Paris--Dom Claude is more antagonist than hero, but it's good anyway. Medieval priest that he is, he thinks there are literal demons involved (there aren't).

The text-based computer game Vespers (available as a free download. Try not to read too much about it in advance of playing it; it works better that way.)
posted by phoenixy at 7:46 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The one that I thought of immediately was Robert Stone's "Children of Light." All of his novels deal with the hypocrisy of the human soul, but this novel deals with it more starkly than some of his other ones: dead-beat screen writer with nothing to offer the world quasi-stalks his ex-lover who's an actress with schizophrenia. Light-hearted fluff with a marshmallow center! The struggle between his self-interest and his desire to protect his lover who is at the mercy of the film production is chilling. No-one is a hero in this one.

Another one by the same author is Flag for Sunrise. A small fictional central American country plays host to an unholy band of the foreigners who make trouble there, including: deranged missionaries, drunk padres, idealistic but flawed journalists and a host of other trainwrecks on two legs.

He captures the hubris of humanity like no-one I've ever read. I highly recommend him for anyone interested in the tortured mess that is the human soul.
posted by readymade at 7:46 PM on September 28, 2009

Possibly Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium.
posted by jeather at 7:54 PM on September 28, 2009

I'm really surprised no one mentioned "Fight Club" yet.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2009

  • The Blade trilogy is all about being a half-vampire vampire hunter. Blade II is the best of the 3 (directed by Guillermo Del Toro); Blade: Trinity has lots of eye-candy for everyone, and is fun in a comic-book kind of way. The first movie is the weakest.

    Favorite factoid about BT: Most cities have a second language other than English that lots of people speak. In America, Spanish is a perfect example of this. There's lots of signage, television, and newspapers in Spanish.

    In BT, the second language of the city they're in is Esperanto. In the background of one scene, the local tv station is showing Incubus, the B&W Esperanto-language horror movie starring William Shatner.

  • Hellboy and Hellboy II (again, Del Toro) are about an outer demon who wrestles with his inner working-stiff good-guy.

  • Daybreakers (yet to be released) looks to be about a world where vampires have taken over, and are running out of humans. So what happens when a vampire hematologist is "cured" of his vampirism by the human resistance?

    BTW, first MF comment. Hello. This is the question that finally made me sign up & stop reading over Lexica's shoulder.

  • posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:06 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Stephen King mines this territory quite a bit.

    Secret Window, Secret Garden
    The Dark Half
    The Talisman
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:08 PM on September 28, 2009

    In Persona 4 (PS2), the brunt of the game's action entails delving into weird pocket-realms formed by the repressed anxieties, thoughts, and desires of the game's characters. For example, a very masculine-fronting male character who has been hiding feminine traits and has become uncertain of his sexuality finds himself in a homosexual bath-house when (insert mysterious circumstances) act on him.

    The amalgamation of said repression is represented physically by a character's "Shadow," who expresses all of the aspects of their self that are consciously denied. (So, the Shadow of said guy is the guy himself clad in thong with a lascivious look on his face, lisping every line and looking for sex in the bath-house.) Almost always, there's a neat "boss battle" at the end of each pocket-realm that is very stylistically reflective of the respective character's issues; however, the character's recognition and acceptance of these repressed things is what usually permits their safe passage from these pocket-realms.
    posted by Keter at 8:20 PM on September 28, 2009

    A potentially borderline example for you to check out is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (generally shortened down to just Persona 4). All the party characters on the journey have to face up to the physical embodiment of their repressed or unspoken feelings and thoughts before joining the protagonist's cause (gaining their persona in the process). One of the main themes of the game is "facing your true self", which may also play into what you're looking for.

    Personally I think it fits in well with what you're after, but I could be wrong. I'd still recommend giving it a look if you have the time!
    posted by Inner Universe at 8:22 PM on September 28, 2009

    Ah damn, Keter got there before me, and expressed things much more eloquently!
    posted by Inner Universe at 8:23 PM on September 28, 2009

    Justin Evan's excellent A Good And Happy Child is about a new father who is in therapy, trying to remember enough of his childhood to figure out why he's scared to pick up his baby son. Creepy!
    posted by nicwolff at 8:29 PM on September 28, 2009

    I also came to suggest Wapsi Square. It's a good comic!
    posted by that girl at 8:30 PM on September 28, 2009

    Duality is a very big theme in Twin Peaks.
    posted by dhammond at 8:52 PM on September 28, 2009

    Oh! Hellboy is a great call. But I think the comic is much better than the movies (though the second one's worth watching) and it deals with the issue of Hellboy struggling to resist his sinister purpose in a more nuanced way.

    Unfortunately, the first trade paperback is pretty mediocre, and sadly unskippable since it sets up the overarching plot line, but TPBs 2-8 (and counting) are among the very best contemporary comics.
    posted by martens at 9:18 PM on September 28, 2009

    Somewhat related, Psychonauts features a kid who literally helps other people battle their inner demons. It's also a pretty good game, available for download from XBLM.
    posted by cali59 at 3:57 AM on September 29, 2009

    I will toss out the sadly forgotten Sleep, by Lynn Bierstadt.
    posted by adipocere at 4:54 AM on September 29, 2009

    "Let the Right One In" vampires & inner struggles galore.
    posted by kiwi-epitome at 6:03 AM on September 29, 2009

    The general motif you're looking for is doubles/dopplegangers. Here's wikipedia's list of fictional dopplegangers.

    Russian novelists are the masters when it comes to this theme, Dostoevsky especially. Start with Crime and Punishment, but the The Double, The Devils, and Notes from Underground would also qualify.
    posted by susanvance at 6:43 AM on September 29, 2009

    It is a werewolf movie, but what a werewolf movie: Ginger Snaps. Inner struggle? Check! Dark and brooding? Check! Something Monstrous within? Check!

    The sequels, Ginger Snaps Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back aren't as good as the first, but still worth watching.

    In the same vein, Benighted by Kit Whitfield, while not precisely what you want, is very much in the same mind-space, from the perspective of an outsider struggling with their inner nature. In this case, the monsters are normal, the humans in the minority.
    posted by bonehead at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2009

    I've greatly enjoyed reading the Dresden Files books. About half-way through the series (I think) he gets "possessed" with the shadow of a demon. Not really the whole demon just part of his consciousness and has to walk the line between staying on the good side or accepting the demon into him entirely and being able to use its power. It was a really interesting subplot through a number of the books.

    Plus magic and wizards and vampires oh my!
    posted by magnetsphere at 11:30 AM on September 29, 2009

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned this, so I feel I might be on the wrong track, but the TV show Supernatural has spent four years exploring, in part, the darkness inside Sam Winchester, one of the two leads.

    I believe this season (season five) we'll see him dealing with yet more seduction from the Dark Side of the Force.
    posted by Squeak Attack at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2009 is chock full of great suggestions.
    posted by Tzarius at 3:03 AM on September 30, 2009

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