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April 25, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Books, films etc where the protgonist and antagonist are both "right"?

After posting this comment I've been thinking how much I'd like to see some of this well-done; not in Whoverse especially, but in general. Two strong and interesting characters, in conflict (not just competition), with contrary goals, but each with a sympathetic point and equal validity for their ideas. Maybe they even agree on some things. I know I've seen this done before but I'm drawing a blank. Can you reccomend something(s)?
posted by The otter lady to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: People may disagree, but I've always felt that this is a strong point of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. And they go further than having just two sympathetic characters.
posted by Paragon at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wish I had any idea what the characters wanted or believed in the second or third PotC movies. I literally could not make heads or tails of them.
posted by saltykmurks at 2:56 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: The Wire blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist better than any other show.
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:01 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The Fugitive
posted by saffry at 3:08 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jaqueline Carey's The Sundering series. It's essentially a retelling of the Lord of the Rings but from the perspective of Sauron's side.
posted by cali59 at 3:25 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana. One side is presented more sympathetically, but you see the reasoning behind both sides.
posted by booksherpa at 3:45 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Les Miz's Jean Valjean and Javert. (Although we're mostly supposed to sympathize with Valjean.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Heat with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.
posted by Ouisch at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2010

Sort of spoilers? I think that may be where Lost is going in the finale.
posted by codacorolla at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2010

Seconding The Wire. An amazing series.
posted by janekate at 4:17 PM on April 25, 2010

Often in Greek literature, competing characters are acting "right" according to different codes. (Excample: Creon and Antigone.)
posted by BibiRose at 4:20 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't seen enough Bollywood to know if it's normal or not, but Dhoom 2 (SLYT. Warning: Some tackiness) was interesting in that it seemed to be based on a clear protagonist/antagonist formulae, but I couldn't tell which of the two was supposed to be which. It's more like two protagonists with conflicting goals, or a movie set in a world where everyone is awesome, so you can like anyone in it.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2010

Isn't one aspect of tragedy that there be two goods, but one must lose?
posted by rhizome at 4:27 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Almost forgot a beautiful example of this: Le Morte d'Arthur, the final conflict between Arthur and Lancelot. T. H. White's The Candle in the Wind explores it well: both protagonists are acting according to their own moral code and, although neither wants a conflict, they are effectively forced into it by their circumstances and frenemies.
posted by Paragon at 4:29 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

In Dr. Strangelove every character is working to do what they see is "right" and best for everyone.
posted by The Whelk at 4:30 PM on April 25, 2010

I don't know how well-done you'll consider this, but Losing Isaiah was an example of this - Ebert notes that, "No matter what side you are on, you will find your viewpoint expressed," but ultimately didn't rate the movie terribly highly (2.5/4 stars).
posted by clerestory at 5:12 PM on April 25, 2010

This is not exactly the same thing, but I've seen performances of Hamlet in which Claudius is the good guy, innocent of all Hamlet's charges (the great thing about Shakespeare's text is that it's open to so many interpretations). Similarly, when I first saw Mamet's controversial two-hander Oleanna on stage, I came out furious because I felt the play, rather unfairly, portrayed one character as a grotesque villain. Yet later I spoke to other audience members who felt the same way about the other character. And that, as I later discovered, is exactly the point Mamet was trying to make.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:18 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG is just like this.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:39 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Doubt does this incredibly effectively by denying the audience the one bit of information they need in order to choose sides.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:00 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Crimson Tide
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:14 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

E.T. somewhat famously, has no bad guys.
posted by NortonDC at 7:29 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Life on Mars, the British series. I can't speak for the American one.

The movie Doubt -- itself based on a play -- does this fairly well, although it's arguable that since there's a "fact of the matter" about what happened that one of the characters is wrong. But part of what makes the movie so tragic is that her point of view, and thus her actions, are so understandable; in another similar scenario, she might have been right, and a lot is at stake if she is.
posted by Nattie at 8:14 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Traitor
posted by Nattie at 8:18 PM on April 25, 2010

posted by brujita at 8:51 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: 3:10 to Yuma does this.
posted by man down under at 9:16 PM on April 25, 2010

Paradise Lost, Milton.
posted by ovvl at 9:36 PM on April 25, 2010

The Fugitive.
posted by iviken at 10:39 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Gone Baby Gone
posted by puritycontrol at 11:28 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Princess Mononoke has two interesting and sympathetic female characters in mortal opposition, and is a sort of allegory for environmental preservation versus technological and social progress.
posted by alexei at 2:15 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sherwood by Parke Godwin, a well-written and interesting historical novel that places the Robin Hood story at the time of the Norman Conquest, with Robin Hood as a farmer-thane and the Sheriff of Nottingham as a Norman knight.

It's one of my favourite novels, particularly for its depiction of Ralf Fitzgerald, the Sheriff, as a complex, intelligent and unhappy young knight rather than the one-dimensional villain of legend.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:07 AM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: This old kung fu movie, The Magnificent Butcher, culminates in a duel to the death between two characters, one of whom is coded as the "villain," but who is acting due to entirely heroic motives - as is the "hero." It's overwhelmingly depressing to watch, because when the hero wins, there is no sense whatsoever that justice has been done.

Beautiful fighting though.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 6:51 AM on April 26, 2010

Seconding Princess Mononoke. It's not just two characters in opposition, either: there are 4 or 5 different interest groups, some in alliance, and none of them outright 'wrong.' It really drove home for me how almost every Hollywood movie is locked into formulaic dualism.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2010

There Will be Blood? The roles are coded clearly, but depending on how you look at it, either or both fo them could be right or wrong.

Burn After Reading seemed to do this explicitly. Again, though, "right" might not be the term so much as, "equally wrong." I could make the case for all Coen Bros. movies. Maybe not Fargo so much.
posted by cmoj at 9:47 AM on April 26, 2010

Not a book or film, but my sons were both impressed with the original Assassin's Creed for just this feature of the game.

You're an assassin, so arguably "bad", but as you go through the game your character is motivated to target "evil" people for assassination, for the greater good of the society.

But, to muddy the waters further, as they lay dying, the victims' explanations for their behavior show that they felt they were acting for the best all the while, too.
posted by misha at 2:31 PM on April 26, 2010

The plot of the SNES RPG Tales of Phantasia fits your criteria.

This might be a spoiler since it's the main twist of the game but I kind of doubt that you'd sit through an 15 year old game with over 40 hours worth of gameplay because of this post, but if you do I'd be impressed.

Both the main protagonist and the main antagonist are in conflict but both of them are fighting for completely justified goals, but you get it completely from the perspective of the protagonist until the very end.
posted by A BIG SCARY EMU at 5:51 PM on April 26, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen
posted by clueless22 at 8:24 PM on April 26, 2010

Battlestar Galactica had a lot of that in many of the human/human conflicts.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:44 PM on April 26, 2010

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