The Antagonist Perspective

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Maleficent (2014)
Directed by: Robert Stromberg   Screenplay by: Linda Woolverton


I caught up with a viewing of Maleficent a week or so ago. It is a film I had wanted to see with the kids, but we hadn’t got around to it. I don’t know whether it was a subconscious reaction to some mixed reviews or just forgetting but, when it appeared on NETFLIX, I thought it was time to give it a whirl.

And we all enjoyed it. I love a good fairy tale and this was based around one of the best; Sleeping Beauty… but with a slight twist.

I am sure we all know the traditional story of the Princess, especially as told by Disney; cursed by the wicked fairy to prick her finger on her 16th birthday and fall into a death-like sleep until awoken by true-love’s kiss. In Disney’s 1959 classic, the wicked fairy Maleficent curses the baby Aurora after she is left off the party-invitations to celebrate the royal birth.

We all know the rest.

Maleficent cleverly expands on this and explores the reasons why Maleficent was so… well, Malevolent. This time we get to hear what happened from the perspective of the “wicked” Fairy Maleficent. The film starts with a view of her childhood, her relationship with the boy who will, eventually, become King, betray her and father the Princess. In essence, we see everything from her perspective, her reasons for being, feeling and behaving the way she does.

Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of the bad guy… or at least the character perceived as the Antagonist in the original story.

This is a fantastic way to look at stories and to think about how to create audience empathy for your characters. Nobody has to like any of your characters but, if you can get an audience to empathise with them, you can get them to care. Hannibal Lecter is one of the prime examples of this being done well; an antagonist who is, essentially, pretty evil but, despite this, the audience identifies with his simple desire for a window. Regardless of everything else he has done (or will do) there is that smallest of chinks in the armour that make him human.

And Maleficent generates that same empathy. We know, before the film has even started, that she has done bad things (or will DO bad things); or, at least, “bad” from Aurora’s and the Royal Family’s perspective. Flip this over to view the story from Maleficent’s perspective and we see the “truth” (or at least another truth) of how the “bad” stuff happens to her, acting as the catalyst for her actions. All of her decisions are right, as far as she is concerned, in the same way that the King probably thinks his actions are the right ones – regardless of whether the audience agree or not. As long as the audience can understand WHY a character does something, they can generate empathy and find themselves caring.

So try to see your story from both your protagonist and antagonist’s position and you will understand them more; their motivations, their needs and wants. Everyone in the story thinks THEY are right, much like real life, and by exploring this in our stories we can develop believable characters in even the most unbelievable situations. I have read how some writers produce two versions of their stories to see it clearly from both perspectives. I haven’t tried this myself, but can see the attraction for the creative process. As soon as you understand that your Antagonist thinks they are just as right as your Protagonist, their actions and decisions will make more sense to you and your audience and the dynamic between the characters will soar.

 

Do you explore your stories from both perspectives?

 

Feel free to comment below and let me know if you have ever written two versions of the same story and how you got on.

Further Discussion

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Posted on June 16, 2016, in Character, empathy, Films, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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