Cain's homecoming: villainy and the cinema

Aaron E. N Taylor
In the interests of broadening the debate on the relationship between aesthetics and ethics in the cinema, the thesis concentrates on the specifics of a viewer's moral relationship with filmic characters, particularly those that are designated as "immoral." By looking upon the figure of the villain throughout the history of popular American cinema, the thesis will account for the various pragmatic uses to which the character- type has been put - as a structural element, as an invitation to both
more » ... textual and self- analysis and as a moral dilemma. To these ends, various traditions within structural narratology, cognitive theory, and moral philosophy are drawn upon in order to determine what a villain means to both a viewer and a work. It is argued that the villain encourages a viewer to consider her moral responses to film in a dramatic way - mainly through "trying out" a potentially new set of values. To "vilify" a character within a film is not only to shore up one's own pre-existing moral beliefs,but is also a process by which a viewer might come to identify, evaluate, and re-evaluate both personal and intersubjective value systems. Adopting such alien and possibly alienating principles through the structures of sympathy and empathy can inspire a reconsideration of qualities that have been expelled from prevalent depictions and descriptions of the "moral" individual. While the phenomenon of "perverse allegiance" with villainous characters seems to represent a contradiction of personal integrity, such sympathetic engagement can actually increase one's capacity for empathetic imagination, promote interpersonal connectivity, and ultimately lead to more holistic conceptions of moral value.
doi:10.22024/unikent/01.02.94685 fatcat:kev6ugz5rrg3xbkh5fzmx2gx3y