We all think we're the hero of the story. Most media enforces this narrative but sometimes, we find out that we're not the hero, and here are some of my favourites.
Obviously spoiler alert for the following;
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic
Spec Ops: The Line
5. Humanity – Starship Troopers (1997, Touchstone Pictures)
The 1997 satirical take on military propaganda based on the Robert A. Heinlein novel of the same name, Starship Troopers follows military recruit, Johnny Rico, through his career from lowly recruit to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an insectoid species known as “Arachnids”.
As the movie progresses, we see the conflict through the eyes of Rico as the Arachnids lay waste to the human forces on multiple galactic fronts. On a surface level, the human military is justified in their actions as being the actions of soldiers in war. It makes sense that we as an audience would side with the humans in any sort of conflict as we are, well, human.
However, if we look at the movie from a wider perspective, we begin to question more and more whether the atrocities the human forces commit are justified. The human forces have been invading and forcefully colonising entire civilisations for years. When the bugs attack the humans, they are simply defending themselves from an invading foreign force.
The human forces in this film capture, torture and commit straight-up war crimes against a species whose only crime is defending their home. The humans don’t even kill their enemies in an honourable manner. They revel in the bloodshed and gleefully celebrate each kill. If this had been two opposing human forces in this movie, it would be one of the most confronting and bleak depictions of the horrors of war instead of a satirical B movie.
4. Leonard – Memento (2000, Summit Entertainment)
The main character of Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller Memento, Leonard, is the textbook definition of an unreliable narrator. We learn early on in the film that Leonard has anterograde amnesia meaning he can’t form new memories and loses his memory every fifteen minutes. He tracks down his wife’s killers using a system of polaroid pictures and tattoos to help him remember important information.
The film does a clever thing where it plays two sequences side by side, one in chronological order with the other sequence playing in reverse. The two sequences match up right at the end of the film, revealing a confronting truth.
Throughout the film, viewers, and Leonard himself believe that he is hunting down his wife’s killers, however, as the film gets closer to the end, we learn that Leonard killed his diabetic wife by giving her too much insulin, causing her to overdose.
Now, this doesn’t make Leonard a villain, just a tragic and sympathetic character. What makes him the villain is that instead of facing the truth he decides to blame those around him, constantly lying to himself and using his amnesia to create a perpetual cycle where he hunts down innocent people.
3. Ferris Bueller – Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, Paramount Pictures)
In the John Hughes pantheon of classic American teen comedies, 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the highest regarded films, equal to Breakfast Club. The story concerns ingenious slacker Ferris as he ropes his best friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane into his day off from his Chicago high school.
During the day Ferris takes his friends around the city to art galleries, museums, sports games, and lunch where, in a standout moment, Ferris convinces a stuffy maître d’ he is Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago. The themes and meaning behind the story that most people find in this movie are that Cameron learns to unwind, enjoy his life, and stand up for himself.
However, if you look closely at Ferris’s actions throughout the movie, a trend starts to appear. Ferris falsifies documents claiming he was dying, convinces his parents of the same, and causes his school to grind to a halt just because he calls in sick. And all of this pales in comparison to the final action.
I am of course talking about the fact Ferris hijacks Cameron’s fathers’ prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, bullying Cameron into submission and pushing him throughout the day until Cameron suffers a nervous breakdown. The culmination of this comes when Cameron destroys the car and causes millions in property damage, all because of Ferris. How does Ferris react to this? He just leaves Cameron, knowing full well how important the car was to Cameron’s father and jokes to the camera about how life moves pretty fast.
The distinct lack of empathy for Cameron’s situation and the way he manipulates every one around him just to get a day off school is nothing short of villainous.
2. Your amnesiac main character – Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic (2003, LucasArts)
When you start Knights of The Old Republic and find your character waking up in the middle of a space battle, you hardly expect to learn that you are Darth Revan, one of the most murderous and evil sith lords the galaxy has ever seen.
The big twist is a real curveball in that it’s delivered by the games big bad Darth Malak which would cast doubt on the validity of his claims however, throughout the game it is strongly hinted that your character has more to them than originally thought. The twist is delivered in the middle of the game at which point you’ve already spent a lot of time in the game training as a Jedi and acting generally heroic or in a morally “good” way.
You as the player have already liberated and rescued multiple people and heard stories of Darth Revan and how he betrayed the Jedi and murdered thousands in his quest for power. The revelation that you are the person responsible for these actions create a real cognitive dissonance with the player with the fact you committed horrible acts while you also had the capacity to do such good as you’ve done in the game so far.
1. Captain Martin Walker – Spec Ops: The Line (2012, 2K Games)
Spec Ops: The Line’s story is a deep inspection of how the horrors of war and the psychological stress war places on people can cause them to divorce from reality, create scapegoats and manifestations in order to cope with the reality of their situation.
This applies to Captain Walker as he slowly and irrevocably struggles to come to terms with the reality of the atrocities that he has committed in the ruined city of Dubai and decides to lay the blame on the long-deceased Colonel John Konrad. This twist isn’t revealed to the player until the end of the game after hours of believing that you, as Walker, are the hero in the story.
The game talks directly to the player at the end when it states: “The truth Walker, is that you’re here because you wanted to feel like something you’re not: a hero.” This one line flips the entire narrative of the game from a trio of soldiers trying to liberate Dubai from a rogue American force to an unhinged war criminal murdering American soldiers and civilians on a downward spiral into insanity.
The game doesn’t beat around the bush, you’re the villain and to try and delude yourself that you’re anything else is pure madness.
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Have a great day,