Who are the best villains in movie/television history?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 04, 2020 03:40 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 04, 2020 03:40 PM

The best villains are the ones you mistake for heroes.

My one and only exhibit is Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, in Blade Runner.

Wait, what?

So if you’ve seen Blade Runner, you’re familiar with the genre defining, cyberpunk, hardboiled cop movie where a woe-begotten “blade runner” has to track down a gang of deadly run-away “replicants”. Central to almost all discussions about Blade Runner stems from the finale, in which a revelation poses the viewer with a question; is Deckard a replicant himself, or just human? The problem with this debate is it ignores the real revelation of the story, which is that Deckard was the villain all along.

We see most of the movie from the perspective of the humans. When we see the replicants, they are committing cruel, insane, murderous acts against innocent people. Deckard is reluctant to do his job, but he understands why he’s gotta hunt these guys down. And he seems very much an underdog the entire time, forced to obey his handlers, sent off to fight deadly, advanced clone people who can easily crush him.

But what gradually emerges, going along, is that the replicants aren’t the monsters. As violent as the “skinjobs” are, you are meant to figure out that these are in fact runaway slaves. They’re fleeing pursuit, trying to put a stop to their evil creators, and gain some hope of future out of all of this. The replicants have a love of life and freedom, but are doomed to imprisonment and premature death. They may have been manufactured, but they are incorporated with animal imagery, to give them a more natural, organic, soulful nature than the people they encounter.

Meanwhile, Deckard? Well he is described by Philip K Dick as “a nose measuring Nazi”. Go back and look at that top picture again. That Voight-Kampff machine he’s sitting next to? He uses that to examine you, and to decide whether he is going to kill you. Deckard is not a detective, he’s a kind of unholy mix of gestapo and slave catcher. Deckard’s behaviour throughout is mechanical and methodical. He looks pallid and corpse-like in scenes, particularly the one where he onscreen rapes a replicant woman. For most of the movie, he sees replicants as lesser beings, just like everyone else does in his world.

Pictured: “the underdog”, shooting a fleeing slave in the back.

Eventually, when it is down to just him and Roy, the final replicant, Deckard changes. He is made to feel human emotions his targets have felt: terror, pain, vulnerability, a wish to survive. It’s only when he is forced to feel all of those things, and only during his lowest point where he is granted mercy by Roy, that he finally learns to be human again. He discovers that Roy was desperate to be a gentle, romantic creature, even when the man had experienced nothing but horror his entire, meaningless life.

The question of Deckard being a replicant isn’t the point – the point is that it doesn’t matter because either way you are still human. I think that a lot of people fail to spot the lesson. This is tacitly brought up in the sequel:

“’K’: [pointing at dog] Is it real?

Rick Deckard: I don’t know. Ask him.”

This mirrors a scene from the previous movie, wherein Deckard, when he first meets Rachael, asks whether the owl in the room is real. He’s not just asking about the owl. In Blade Runner 2049, K is quietly asking Deckard if he is a replicant. Deckard’s answer is dismissive; it doesn’t goddamn matter.

Anyway, I’ve babbled for a while, but my point is, the entire movie of Blade Runner gives a valuable lesson on how we can be tricked into complicity. We accept an evil status quo, as long as we never see the real victims of that status quo. Most cyperpunk stories make it stupidly obvious who the villain is, but Blade Runner shows us a world where, secretly, the villains are the heroes and the heroes are the villains. They’re the kind of villains I like.

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