The world is full of misunderstood protagonists and even villains. From San in Princess Mononoke to Eric Killmonger in Black Panther, sometimes characters are misunderstood or have a strong moral weight to their arguments (respectively).
But a lot of times these characters are adopted by fans as misunderstood and they are actually garbage people. And it’s generally garbage people who are themselves attracted to them, not understanding that the films they’ve watched actually don’t want you to be like these characters. Every troubled kid who has felt some sort of affinity for Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, these are your people.
I’m not saying you can’t like these characters or think they’re interesting. But you’re not supposed to root for them or want to be like them. And with two of these coming to theaters in the coming weeks, it seems time to make sure everyone knows this.
Don’t be like these people.
5. Tyler Durden
Wow. It’s been almost 20 years since Fight Club came out, and people still don’t understand it. Brad Pitt‘s portrayal of the anti-social anarchist might be part of the reason people want to be Tyler. Who wouldn’t want to be Brad Pitt? I mean, check out those abs. . .
Tyler’s speeches about being “the middle children of history” and not being a “special or unique snowflake” have a certain resonance to them. We all feel a little bit disaffected in our modern world, but the fact that “snowflake” has entered our vocabulary as an insult is one of the greatest ironies of all time. Fight Club is a dark satire of what happens when toxic masculinity is taken to its reductio ad absurdum: you get Tyler Durden.
Tyler wasn’t fighting for us. He was not making the world a better place. He made people in pain feel a different kind of pain. But people died. And at the end of the day, his agenda was simply nihilistic chaos.
I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise people don’t understand that Tyler is the villain.
4. John Rambo
The Rambo franchise is so interesting I have no idea what to make of it. First Blood was an amazing film. Then they somehow turned it into an action franchise as Rambo gets sent on mission after mission to go blow up bad guys. Wait. . . what?
The first film was about how society had failed this troubled Vietnam vet. He was a war hero but when he got back to his country he was hassled by local law enforcement, arrested, and then went on a PTSD-fueled rampage as he tried to just get away from the situation and be left alone. First Blood is an incrimination of the military-industrial complex, police brutality, small-minded small-town ignorance, and how we failed to treat this man like a man, so he became a monster. We turned him into a monster.
The other films are about how our military used this monster to go kill brown people. Ummmmm… ok.
Now, admittedly, I haven’t yet seen Last Blood. (And this is obviously not a review for it,) But I fear for what it is saying. Unless Sylvester Stallone is using his magic ninja and arrow powers to hunt down an obvious stand-in for Ike Perlmutter because he’s using his millions to sway a corrupt president to privatize the VA and take away his health care, then I really don’t care. But the plot description sounds more like Sicario: Day of the Soldado shoehorned Rambo into it.
John Rambo isn’t someone to emulate. He’s someone who needs treatment. Remember that in the book the first film was based on, Rambo dies in the end. That’s all that this path leads to. Death, death, and more death.
3. Travis Bickle
There is probably no one more misunderstood in film history than Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver. At first glance, Travis actually has a lot in common with John Rambo. They’re both messed up Vietnam vets whom society has forgotten.
Folks quote the “You talkin’ to me?” scene as though this is some tough guy act. In actuality, this is a sign of Travis’s complete mental breakdown. It’s tragic, not tough. Travis needs help, not adoration.
Yes, Travis does some heroic things. But he’s doing them for so many of the wrong reasons. And like the aforementioned Holden Caulfield who was obsessed with “phonies”, Travis is obsessed with whether or not people are “cold” without taking any thought about his own state of mind. Here’s a hint, folks– turn some of that obsession inward and do some self-reflection.
Maybe Betsy doesn’t like you because you tried to take her to a porn theater, and you should stop obsessing about her? Again, the theme of toxic masculinity runs strongly through these characters.
And, finally, we can’t move on from this without bringing up the fact that John Hinckley was inspired by this film to try to assassinate Ronald Reagan. That’s how messed up the obsession with this movie is.
Taxi Driver is an amazing film worthy of endless dissection and discussion. But if you’re taking away that Travis Bickle is someone to try to be like, you’re doing it wrong.
Speaking of psychopaths, next we come to the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker. And with his King of Comedy-inspired return to the screen next month, we have to make this clear again. . . he is not someone to idolize.
Indeed, some of the criticism of the upcoming Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix is that it excuses or glorifies toxic incel culture. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the film myself, but the fact that DC Joker stans are harassing critics who dared to pan the film (that they haven’t seen either) confirms my fears that this movie has the potential to stir up the dregs of humanity who don’t understand the material.
Just looking at his cinematic appearances (not even going into tv and comics or other media), the character of Joker is a toxic psychopath with abusive misogynistic tendencies. That’s to be expected: he’s the villain. We’re not supposed to want to emulate him, and if you do, you are taking the wrong message from this.
Ok, maybe the Caesar Romero version in Batman ’66 wasn’t terrible. Silly, challenging Batman to a surfing contest? Yes. That version might get a pass. Everyone else? Garbage person.
Ok, finally. Everyone who jumped on the “Thanos Was Right” bandwagon was wrong. No, he was not right. He had the power of the Infinity Gauntlet and wants to wipe out half of all life instead of, oh, doubling the amount of all resources? What an asshole.
You have phenomenal cosmic power and this is how you use it? You spend all your time and resources into building a massive war machine in order to conquer planet while not understanding maybe all those resources would be better used to feed, clothe, house, and heal people?
Granted, the comics version of Thanos makes more sense. You’re still terrible, but at least killing half of all life to impress Death herself is logically consistent. Movie Thanos is just a murderer.
Eco-fascists are now taking the same basic idea from Thanos in order to justify murdering poor people and people of color. People like the El Paso shooter felt we were running out of resources and had to stop an “invasion” of people. They couldn’t be more wrong. We actually have plenty for all of us– if people at the top (like Thanos) would share rather than horde.
All the other people on this list had serious mental problems, from PTSD to psychosis. To some degree, we can have empathy for them. Thanos doesn’t have any such trauma he’s dealing with. He just decided to do this because he’s the worst.
Thanos was not right. Cap was right. Iron Man was right. ‘Nuff said.