Saturday, July 17, 2010

When the Opposing Guy is NOT the Bad Guy

Okay, confession time. I have a crush on one of the stars of The Fugitive, and it isn’t heartthrob Harrison Ford. Oh sure, he was cute in his American Graffiti/Star Wars/Indiana Jones days. But the man who has stolen my heart is Tommy Lee Jones. Rugged, great sense of humor, wonderful actor. Okay, he’s not Pierce Brosnan, who is in a different category altogether. But charisma oozes from him whether he’s playing a semi-serious man in black to comedic Will Smith, a rootin’, tootin’ space cowboy, or just doing his job as a US Marshal.

I like him.

That’s why I was happy to see him as this particular antagonist in The Fugitive.

Antagonist? But, Kathy, how can you like an antagonist? Aren’t they all villains? Don’t they either kill, maim, or destroy?

Uh, no.

The Merriam-Webster definition of antagonist is:

“one that contends with or opposes another”

Opposition need not be violent. It could be as subtle as Marshal Samuel Gerard doing his job as he tries to catch Dr. Richard Kimball, a suspect in his own wife’s murder. In this movie, Marshal Gerard is an excellent example of the definition above. As Dr. Kimball hides from the law while proving his innocence, the marshal is hunting him down, in clear opposition to the doctor’s goal.

Is the marshall evil? No. Does he wish harm on the man he’s been hired to bring in? No. He is not the villain.

A story can have more than one antagonist, and often, those sub-antagonists serve as the villains. I think you can clearly see that the killer, the man with the prosthetic arm, is also in opposition to Dr. Kimball’s goals. Kimball is closing in on him, and the killer doesn’t want to be caught. Another antagonist, and perhaps the most dastardly villain, is Dr. Kimball’s good friend, Dr. Charles Nichols. Nichols is behind Kimball’s wife’s murder, trying to silence Kimball before he can blow the whistle on Nichols’s defective drug that he’s trying to market.

My favorite scene in the movie, and one that brings my antagonist-is-not-necessarily-the-villain point home, is when Gerard corners Kimball at the end of a tunnel in a dam. “I didn’t do it!” Kimball says. “I don’t care.” Gerard answers just moments before Kimball plunges into the water to escape. Gerard is stunned as he doesn’t wish harm on Kimball, he simply wants to do his job.

The role of antagonist can change to supporter as the story progresses. We see this as Gerard investigates and comes to the same conclusions that Kimball does. Their goals become the same as they both close in on the real killer.

At the end, after Nichols and his henchman, the one-armed-man hired to kill Kimball’s wife, are taken into custody, Kimball is also placed in a squad car. Gerard reaches in, removes the handcuffs and gives him a bag of ice for his bruised hands. Kimball says, “I thought you didn’t care.” Gerard jokes, “I don’t.”

Hero and antagonist have joined forces, the true villains are hauled away, and we are confident that with this new ally, Dr. Richard Kimball will be set free.


The Fugitive -

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