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  • Throughout its history, Hollywood has created unforgettable characters

  • which exist somewhere in between good and evil.

  • One of the most common character types which falls in this gray area is...

  • "- Where is my daughter!"

  • - The anti-hero. A character who doesn't always do the right thing

  • but who the audience is drawn to.

  • This is "What is an Anti-Hero".

  • Before we get started, don't forget to subscribe to StudioBinder

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  • Anti-heroes can get pretty violent

  • so consider this a graphic content warning.

  • We'll be spoiling the following movies.

  • Now, let's jump in.

  • An anti-hero is the main character

  • in a story who lacks the conventional principles that we associate with a 'hero'.

  • This might mean a lack of courage,

  • a cynicism for the world around them,

  • or a weak moral compass.

  • The term anti-hero predates film by more than a century

  • used by philosophers like Denis Diderot as early as 1714.

  • In film, however, the anti-hero became immensely popular after World War II

  • when returning soldiers struggled with reintegrating to their normal lives.

  • "- People lose teeth talking like that.

  • You want to hang around, you'll be polite."

  • - Nowhere was the anti-hero more prevalent

  • in the noir genre which proliferated the 40s and 50s.

  • Noirs often followed grizzled detectives

  • who rebuked traditional heroics

  • instead operating in a moral gray area

  • reflecting the pessimistic (inaudible) in American society after the World War.

  • "- Yes, I killed him.

  • I killed him for money.

  • And for a woman."

  • - Today, anti-heroes are everywhere.

  • Populating some of the most iconic films

  • and TV series of the past few decades.

  • "- It's all good man."

  • Anti-heroes are sometimes categorized as villain protagonists and vice versa.

  • A villain protagonist's actions are usually more evil than an antihero's.

  • Therefore, it's a blurry line

  • and the distinction depends on a viewer's own moral code.

  • So, what do you think?

  • Are these antiheroes or villain protagonists?

  • Because antiheroes are so common they come in many shapes and sizes.

  • Let's take a look at the anti-hero spectrum.

  • "- Hi.

  • I'm Shellie's new boyfriend and I'm out of my mind."

  • - The different forms of anti-hero are defined by two elements

  • understanding and approval.

  • Screenwriting scholar John Truby explains, '

  • If you show the audience why the character chooses to do what they do

  • then the audience understands the cause of the action

  • without necessarily approving of the action itself'.

  • For a character to be an anti-hero,

  • the audience understands why they're doing what they're doing

  • but don't have to think it's the right thing to do.

  • "- I'm on my f*cking last bite, okay!?"

  • - Where a character falls on the anti-hero spectrum

  • is largely dependent on how much the audience approves of their actions.

  • "- Jesus Christ! Can you maybe keep it together for just 10 minutes?"

  • Robin Hood, for example, falls on the most approving end of the spectrum.

  • We understand why he's stealing from the rich and giving to the poor

  • but we also have a certain level of approval of his actions.

  • "- Praise the Lord and pass the tax rebate!"

  • - Some may argue that even though he's breaking the law,

  • he's doing the right thing.

  • This means Robin Hood is just barely an anti-hero.

  • "- Everybody this way!"

  • - Breaking the rules - Yes.

  • But doing so in a way that would garner most people's approval.

  • Fleabag meanwhile falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

  • She's selfish,

  • judgmental, and impulsive.

  • So for much of the series, we don't approve of her actions

  • even though some of them may be relatable.

  • "- Time to throw the net out."

  • We understand why Fleabag is the way she is however

  • when we see the emotional distance she has from her family.

  • "- You close with your family?

  • - We get on with it.

  • - Do you talk? - God, no."

  • - Aileen from "Monster" is in the least approving side of the anti-hero spectrum.

  • She is a serial killer.

  • So the audience doesn't approve of her actions at all.

  • The audience has sympathy for her however because we see she was a victim of abuse.

  • We don't condone her actions but we know why she's doing what she's doing.

  • So Aileen ends up with high understanding but low approval.

  • Sometimes a character can shift on the antihero spectrum as their story progresses.

  • Perhaps, the most famous example of this is in "Breaking Bad".

  • "- I am the one who knocks."

  • - Walter White begins as a highly sympathetic anti-hero.

  • He's selling drugs to pay for his cancer treatment.

  • "- Maybe you and I could partner up."

  • - But as the series continues, we approve of White's actions less and less.

  • Since he eventually becomes a ruthless drug kingpin.

  • But we understand why he's doing what he's doing.

  • He's garnering more respect than he ever did as a high school science teacher.

  • "- Say my name.

  • - Heisenberg.

  • - You're godd*mn right."

  • - Now, that we know the different forms they can take

  • let's look at how to write an anti-hero.

  • "- What do you think you are for Christ's sake? Crazy or something?"

  • - As we've made clear, establishing understanding is crucial when writing an anti-hero.

  • But how does a writer show an audience why an

  • anti-hero is behaving the way that they are?

  • "- He thinks I'm some stupid thing! He does!

  • Well, I didn't ask to get made!"

  • - One of the most tried and true techniques to build

  • understanding for a character is through backstory.

  • What happened to them in the past that made them this way.

  • "- Someday I'm gonna make great machines that fly.

  • And me and my friends are gonna go flying together

  • into the forever and beautiful sky."

  • - In "Watchmen", we are introduced to Rorschach as a brutal vigilante anti-hero.

  • He is cold and unforgiving showing no mercy as he kills criminals.

  • His actions are explained later when he is interrogated

  • revealing the hardships he experienced growing up.

  • And a pivotal moment from his past where he was a witness to a gruesome crime.

  • "- I confess.

  • I kidnapped her. I killed her.

  • Arrest me."

  • - The experience hardened him and led him to believe some criminals can't be redeemed.

  • "- Take me in. Don't! No!

  • - Men get arrested.

  • Dogs get put down."

  • - With this backstory, we may still not approve of Rorschach's actions

  • but we understand the circumstances which drove him to have the outlook that he does.

  • "- None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you.

  • - All right, that's it!

  • You're locked in here with me."

  • - Internal monologue is another way to understand a character's actions.

  • "- I went over everything that was said.

  • What should have been said.

  • What could have been said differently.

  • What could have been said better."

  • - This is a favorite technique of anti-hero maestro Paul Schrader

  • who writes characters disillusion with society

  • and explains their actions through voiceover.

  • "- In the last year I'd come to believe in such things as

  • spirits leaving the body and not wanting to be put back."

  • In "Taxi Driver", we follow Travis Bickle

  • and we slowly learn of his mindset through his increasingly dark narration.

  • "- Someday a real rain'll come and wash all this scum off the streets."

  • - His voiceover shows us two sides of him.

  • A lonely man looking for human connection.

  • "- All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go."

  • - And a bitter obsessive headed towards a mental break.

  • The idea has been growing my brain for some time.

  • So by the time Bickle turns violent, we understand how he got to this point.

  • "- Suck on this."

  • - Building understanding also means giving depth to your anti-heroes' motivations.

  • In "Chronicle", Andrew's actions are rooted in

  • his difficult home life and struggles at school.

  • So we understand why he uses his newfound ability to finally have agency over his life.

  • "- Hey, Wayne.

  • But this power slowly corrupts him.

  • "- See this one here.

  • This one I got really clean because I did this little like

  • lasso thing around the root, you know."

  • - While his motivations are complex, by the end of the film he is a true anti-hero.

  • "- Co-pay on that is $750.83.

  • - Well, I don't have all that."

  • - Andrew's trajectory is a great example of a common anti-hero character arc.

  • "- I'm an apex predator."

  • - Starting as a moral person

  • slowly getting worse as the film goes on.

  • This type of art can also create compelling internal conflict.

  • Your anti-hero may not want to do what they're doing

  • but they feel like they have no other option.

  • "- Go on this quest for me and I'll give you your swamp back."