batyatoon: (gashlycrumb)
batyatoon ([personal profile] batyatoon) wrote2008-01-08 10:07 pm

(no subject)

So everyone's talking about Sweeney Todd (sorry, [ profile] agonistes, me too). And in the comments to [ profile] filkertom's post on the subject a while back, somebody was complaining about how the musical changed the original story, and expressed disgust for how Sondheim turned Todd into "a misunderstood anti-hero".

I boggled a little, as I'm sure at least some of you are, but it got me thinking. Sweeney Todd is obviously not a misunderstood anti-hero, but what is he?

Has anyone yet coined and defined the term anti-villain?

If an anti-hero is a character you're not supposed to like, or sympathize with much, or admire, but who is nonetheless the one you're supposed to root for ... I propose to define an anti-villain as a character you do like or sympathize with or admire, but are nonetheless not supposed to root for.

Sweeney Todd may be an example of such. So is everyone from Booth to Oswald in Sondheim's Assassins. I'm not sure where to draw the line between an anti-villain and a villain who has been humanized to the point of drawing audience sympathy, or one who is just so awesome as to draw audience admiration. I think the difference may be in the presentation of villain as protagonist.

Following the immediate obvious association, does this make Elphaba an anti-villain? I don't think so, but I'm not sure I can put my finger on why.


[identity profile] 2008-01-09 03:14 am (UTC)(link)
Because Elphaba was fighting for the sake of protecting other people who were being oppressed, and she was simply painted as black.

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 04:17 am (UTC)(link)
adiva_calandia: (James Dean. Nngh.)

[personal profile] adiva_calandia 2008-01-09 03:15 am (UTC)(link)
Which version of Elphaba? Musical-version, she's certainly the hero; book-version, I'm not so sure.

Hmm. This is an intriguing notion. I think one defining characteristic of an anti-hero like, I dunno, Jack Bauer, is that something happens so that you do sympathize with them. I would expect an anti-villain to have an equal but opposite characteristic -- something they do or that happens so that no matter how cool they are, you don't like them. I guess Sweeney's moment there would be when he kills either crazy-old-woman or Mrs. Lovett.

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 03:34 am (UTC)(link)
Am I bad, immoral person when I root for Benjamin Barker to be avenged? Granted, Sweeney is effectively his ghost, wreaking physical havoc and living it up with Mrs. Lovett (but probably not as much as everybody thinks) as he does so, but I do love a good revenge tragedy.

I am, after all, an ose bunny.

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 04:34 am (UTC)(link)
Am I bad, immoral person when I root for Benjamin Barker to be avenged?

If it's the case, then you can feel free to sit over here by me in the Bad, Immoral People Section.

And sing along.

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 03:35 am (UTC)(link)
Hmmmm... if you leave out "humanized to the point of drawing audience sympathy" and "just so awesome as to draw audience admiration", what's left as options for getting the audience to sympathize with or admire a character who doesn't deserve to to be rooted for?

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 03:46 am (UTC)(link)
Has anyone yet coined and defined the term anti-villain?

Yeah, TV Tropes has (
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (what about everything)

[personal profile] skygiants 2008-01-09 04:54 am (UTC)(link)
I like that definition!

Although - all right, I think there's a distinction between musical Sweeney and film Sweeney, but I don't know which is the anti-hero and which the anti-villain, so you can clarify for me. *grins* In my view, in the film he came across as much more crazy from start to finish; he seemed much less sympathetic than he does in the musical, where you seem him making more of a descent into the crazy, if that makes sense. In the musical Sweeney Todd is very clearly human, a character you are supposed to identify with even against your will: that's emphasized over and over again in the choruses and the descriptions. And Mrs. Lovett is the utterly cold and evil one. I think that the movie kind of shifts the 'human' focus to Mrs. Lovett, since Sweeney is very deliberately crazified from the beginning.
campkilkare: (Default)

[personal profile] campkilkare 2008-01-09 12:48 pm (UTC)(link)
I scanned these comments, and I was going to reply to this with, "I was discussing the same thing with Becca at Boxcon..."

And then I saw who posted the comment. D'oh.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (heartless grapefruit)

[personal profile] skygiants 2008-01-09 06:15 pm (UTC)(link)
*giggles* HI JOHN! I am repetitive!

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 05:46 am (UTC)(link)
I haven't seen the musical, but I've read 'Wicked,' and I don't think Elphaba fits into the hero/villain scale. She's the protagonist; not a hero, not a villain, just a human being. She has good intentions, but fatal flaws. It's very easy to identify with her.

[identity profile] 2008-01-09 09:58 am (UTC)(link)
Well, depending on the production, can we stick Macbeth in the anti-villain category? Also, possibly, Shylock? (we can have a long discussion about the merits or lack thereof of Shylock some other time. I'm just saying, any half-way decent production of that play makes you understand and sympathize with exactly why he is doing what he is doing, and yet you really can't support the guy suing to cut out someone else's heart.)

And in either the musical or the book, there's too much about what Elphaba is doing which is /right/. There are ways she's flawed. There are ways she fails and falls. There are things she is tempted into which /are/ wrong, but many of her motivations are right. She is, at heart, a good person more of the time than she's not.

Sweeny Todd might once have been a good person, if they hadn't ruined his life the way they did for the reasons they did. But what he went through turned him into a monster. And as much as we might sympathize and feel for him and understand how he got there, he's really on beyond the point where he might be called back.
madfilkentist: Photo of Carl (starwars)

[personal profile] madfilkentist 2008-01-09 11:48 am (UTC)(link)
I'd like to suggest a different definition.

Your comment reminded me of a review I wrote many years ago of the Trek novel The Price of the Phoenix. Recalling as best I can from many years ago, I wrote, "Omni could be called an 'anti-hero,' not in the usual sense of a character without heroic qualities, but of one who turns those qualities against their best potential."

This is more specific than just "rooting for" the anti-villain, and clearly excludes the "humanized" and "sympathetic" villain. I haven't seen Sweeney Todd, but Doc Smith's DuQuesne comes to mind as the perfect example: someone who's nearly as courageous and even honorable as the hero, but turns his virtues to evil ends.